University of Queensland partners with Vale on mining research

21 April 2016 (Last Updated April 21st, 2016 18:30)

Research by the University of Queensland in Australia in collaboration with Brazilian mining company Vale has found that termite guts could contribute to mining site rehabilitation.

Canga cave

Research by the University of Queensland in Australia in collaboration with Brazilian mining company Vale has found that termite guts could contribute to mining site rehabilitation.

University of Queensland School of Earth Sciences researcher Dr Emma Gagen said that termite guts were under the microscope in research investigating how microorganisms could help remediate iron ore sites once mining stops.

The research focuses on the method to promote formation of a type of iron cement crust known as canga that naturally forms a protective layer over the top of iron ores.

Gagen said: "Canga hosts very distinct ecosystems possessing unique endemic plant species, such as bromeliads, that are adapted to high iron concentrations and harsh conditions.

"During the mining process, canga is broken up and moved away to access the underlying ore, but the project is looking at ways to speed-up its reformation after mining."

"Canga hosts very distinct ecosystems possessing unique endemic plant species, such as bromeliads, that are adapted to high iron concentrations and harsh conditions."

The process will allow for specialised indigenous plants, which grow on canga.

Dr Gagen's team considers establishing a field trial in Brazil to develop a bio-remediation strategy for iron ores by re-establishing canga.

The project is led by University of Queensland School of Earth Sciences professors Gordon Southam and Paulo Vasconeclos, and School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences professor Gene Tyson.

According to Southam, the collaboration between the university and the company will offer advanced training in mining-related research and produce economic benefits for the iron mining industry globally.

Southam added: "This will enhance Australia's position as a global leader in providing innovative solutions to today's mining challenges."

An Australian Research Council Linkage grant is funding much of the project work, which is being conducted in the Vale-UQ Geomicrobiology Laboratory at the university's St Lucia campus.


Image: Inside a canga cave. Photo: courtesy of The University of Queensland.