BacTech Environmental Corp, an environmental technology company delivering eco-friendly bioleaching and remediation solutions for precious metal and critical mineral recovery, says it is advancing its Sudbury pilot plant development for nickel-cobalt and ‘green’ iron recovery with plans for the plant to be operational in July.
Dr Nadia Mykytczuk, a leader in biomining technology, member of BacTech’s advisory board and Interim CEO and President of MIRARCO Mining Innovation, is leading the development and building of a bioleach pilot plant to be located in Sudbury, Canada.
Working closely with BacTech’s scientific team, the plant is for the testing of bioleaching processes like the company’s proposed approach for pyrrhotite treatment. The pilot plant will simulate a commercial bioleach process consisting of a cascade of reactors operating on a continuous basis. The plant will also include front and back-end equipment operating as separate units for capturing additional revenue sources beyond nickel-cobalt (eg elemental sulphur, iron as feed for steel making and oxidised residue conversion for construction materials).
The proposed pilot plant is expected to be operational by July. One reactor has been 100% completed to date and is being used to test select concentrates from BacTech’s Tenguel project in Ecuador.
On April 7, BacTech announced it had filed a provisional patent application documenting its proposed approach to bioleaching pyrrhotite materials. Pyrrhotite is a very volatile sulphide mineral containing nickel and cobalt values that oxidises rapidly and produces large amounts of iron and sulphur components as by-products, which are typically considered as wastes. The pilot plant is part of Dr Mykytczuk’s larger effort to establish the future Centre for Mine Waste Biotechnology, a facility focused on scale-up and commercialisation of biotechnologies to help extract value and reduce impacts from mine wastes.
The object is to use this pilot facility to obtain the design data necessary to establish a fully integrated tonnage-based demonstration plant, which would then lead towards full-scale commercialisation. The production of value-added materials from the iron and sulphur and oxidised residue, which would normally be disposed of as waste, differentiates this process from other pyrrhotite bioleach endeavours which only target nickel and cobalt production, BacTech says.
On May 11, 2022, the Canadian government announced a C$10.9 million ($8.5 million) fund to assist with the construction of pilot plants and projects to support the development of critical mineral value chains. The Sudbury Basin hosts up to 100 Mt of pyrrhotite tailings deposited over the past 90 years of mining estimated to contain on average 0.8% Ni and 0.03% Co, according to BacTech.
“We are very happy to see the government stepping up and providing capital for pilot stage plants in the critical metals space,” Ross Orr, President and CEO of BacTech, said. “This is probably the most difficult capital to obtain at the R&D stage, as the demands are much greater than a typical lab setup. We will definitely be answering the Canadian Government’s call for proposals. In addition to reactors and other equipment, we need to conduct studies on the pre- bioleach phase as well as recovery of metals from solution at the back-end.”
BacTech’s scientific path is to develop an innovative zero-carbon liberation and extraction approach to separating iron from its ore, in addition to optimising nickel-cobalt recovery efforts. BacTech says it believes its method answers the need raised by the Canadian Government and to accelerate the sustainable extraction and processing of critical minerals from existing mine tailings and invest in domestic production.
Orr concluded: “Providing the solution to the complex pyrrhotite issue in the Sudbury Basin would be a tremendous win for BacTech and its shareholders. Having completed an applicable year-long bioleach study with great results some 20 years ago gives us the confidence that we can succeed. The complementary technologies that we hope to now use were not available to us back in the late 1990s and should allow us to commercialise and sell multiple end-products derived from the pyrrhotite source.”