Using bacteria to extract metals from shale

A Toronto company is betting on a new breed of microscopic miners

Microscopic miners


Imagine an army of tiny bugs in tiny hard hats chipping away at a pile of Alberta shale. Okay, so the part about the hard hats is a bit far-fetched. But the bugs, or bacteria at least, could be very real. Toronto-based mining company DNI Metals Inc. is hoping to use a bacteria-based process called bioheap leaching to extract base minerals from a shale deposit in northern Alberta. The process, already in use in Finland, relies on microbes to consume the rock and excrete a host of valuable minerals as waste. DNI CEO Shahe Sabag told Reuters he hopes to raise $1 billion to help get the project off the ground. If he succeeds, bioheap leaching could lead to a revolution in shale mining. Long known to possess deep wells of base metals, like copper and nickel, black shale has proven stubbornly difficult to tap over the years. One billion dollars may seem like a lot, but bioheap leaching isn’t “rocket science,” Sabag said. “They are bacteria that live on sulphur and iron the way we live on protein and carbs.”

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