PDAC: Tiny "bugs" may bring bonanza to Canadian miner

Mon Mar 5, 2012 10:46am EST
 
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By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - A small Canadian miner plans to enlist an army of ore-munching bacteria to help it extract base metals from a shale deposit in northern Alberta, embracing a technology that sounds more like science fiction than a promising new mining technique.

Not only is the process already being used in Finland, its proponents say it could one day revolutionize base metal mining by allowing ore to be pulled out of shale deposits that were once impossible to tap.

Toronto-based DNI Metals DNI.V is counting on so-called bioheap leaching to produce a suite of eight metals, plus rare earths, from its Alberta Black Shale project, located some 900 km (560 miles) north of Calgary.

"There's no rocket science to this," DNI Chief Executive Shahe Sabag told Reuters ahead of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention, opening Sunday in Toronto.

"They are bacteria that live on sulfur and iron the way we live on protein and carbs," Sabag said in an interview before the PDAC gathering, an event that brings investors together with small companies like DNI that need financing.

To extract nickel, zinc and other metals from the shale - a sedimentary rock found in shallow deposits - ore is dug up, piled onto a leaching pad and irrigated with the bacterial mix, which Sabag calls "bugs." The tiny organisms chew up the rock and expel the metals as waste. The metals are then piped into a refinery and separated.

SHALLOW OPEN PIT

The technology, proven on the industrial scale in the mid-2000s, makes it possible to mine black shale deposits, previously considered off limits to mineral exploitation.   Continued...