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Progress in Tropical Nickel Phytomining

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Author P N Nkrumah, P D Erskine, G Echevarria and A van der Ent

Description

Nickel phytomining is a low cost alternative to traditional nickel mining and a complementary process to existing mining operations in areas with low-grade nickel soils or nickel waste material. The process of nickel phytomining consists of growing selected hyperaccumulator plant species (‘metal crops’) on Ni-rich (ultramafic) soils, followed by harvesting and incineration of the biomass to produce a ‘bio-ore’ from which Ni salts or Ni metal may be recovered (Chaney et al, 2007). The ‘metal crops’ are selected on the basis of high biomass yield combined with high Ni concentrations (>1 per cent) in the above-ground biomass (Chaney et al, 2007). Currently, Alyssum murale and A. corsicum have been used for Ni phytomining trials, mainly undertaken in Albania and USA (Bani et al, 2015; Li et al, 2003), while the agronomy of <10 species has been tested in temperate regions (Nkrumah et al, 2016). Nickel phytomining has high economic potential; however, large-scale demonstrations are needed to provide ‘real-life’ evidence for commercial operations (van der Ent et al, 2015). Unrealised opportunities exist in tropical regions for commercial scale Ni phytomining. To date, the agronomy of tropical ‘metal crops’ has not been tested. This extended abstract presents the progress of tropical phytomining, and reports on agronomic trials undertaken to determine whether the trends in temperate regions could be confirmed in a wet tropical environment. CITATION:

Nkrumah, P N, Erskine, P D, Echevarria, G and van der Ent, A, 2016. Progress in tropical nickel phytomining, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 135–137 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).