BHP says it has partnered with the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to work with local universities to find a sustainable way to both clean up legacy mining impacts and develop biomass to be used as feedstock for biofuels from these impacted lands and water.
The company said: “BHP’s commitment to putting health and safety first, being environmentally responsible, and supporting our communities extends to mine sites that are no longer operating, including those BHP acquired after mining was completed.
“In many cases, historical practices at these sites have resulted in environmental impacts. BHP works hard to address these site-based concerns in collaboration with regulatory agencies and local communities.”
The collaboration between BHP, universities, and research institutes will study species of plants and algae that can be used to aid in cleanup of impacts from uranium mining in the soil and water through phytoremediation, and then produce biodiesel and other value-added products from these brownfield sites in arid climates, BHP said.
This first 24-month programme will identify and test native and other compatible species of algae and plants for their phytoremediation capability and metal uptake as well as safe and efficient ways to process the harvested phytoremediation crops into useful bioproducts. The laboratory and field studies will build on current literature and peer studies, according to BHP.
“The planned programme also intersects with existing work at BHP to accelerate the development of carbon capture systems in a range of applications, noting that many of the nature-based options to remediate land also remove CO2 from the atmosphere,” BHP said. Synergies between these development programmes will be sought, including the potential to enhance CO2 removal rates and accelerate CO2 use “pathways”, it said.
NREL, located in Golden, Colorado, is DOE’s premier National Lab devoted to research and development of renewable energy and materials technologies, according to BHP.
“It focuses on creative answers to today’s energy challenges. These include breakthroughs in fundamental science and new clean technologies to integrated energy systems that power our lives. Through their work, NREL researchers are transforming the way the nation and the world use energy,” BHP said.
The universities involved in this study are the Nuclear Sciences department at Oregon State University, the Sustainable Trades and Advanced Technologies department at Santa Fe Community College, and New Mexico State University Departments of Plant & Environmental Sciences and Chemical & Materials Engineering.