The University of Queensland (UQ) has developed a new technology to support plant growth at mine sites previously unable to support any vegetation due to heavy metal soil contamination.

With financial support from Xstrata Technology, MetalloTek will manage further development and commercialisation of the technology in partnership with industry stakeholders.

MetalloTek’s lead researcher said the new technology had the potential to be a low-cost and effective tool for helping rehabilitate metal-contaminated mine sites.

The metal-binding polymer particles will be added to the contaminated soil to bind to toxic metal ions, reducing their concentrations and thereby allowing vegetation growth.

MetalloTek’s particles will act as a temporary water reservoir and deliver water to plants, which is particularly useful in arid environments.

Xstrata Technology CEO Joe Pease said the research showed the potential to deliver smart and sustainable ways of dealing with metal contamination in soils a critical concern for mining firms.

“Rehabilitation processes involve capping mine waste with scarce topsoil, or trying to establish vegetation on waste, which may contain soluble metals which hinder plant regeneration or may leach into the groundwater, ” Pease said.