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MEI Online: Biotechnology: Latest News: January 24th 2003


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:: Practical Phytomining?

Viridian Resources believes that its patented technology to recover nickel using plants will enable it to become major mining company, using this biotechnology. Viridian and its associates have developed a process known as phytomining, which uses naturally-occurring plants that have evolved to thrive on nickel-bearing soils. Viridian has evaluated some 300 species of nickel-accumulator plants from around the world and collected, propagated and cross-bred the most promising varieties to produce the plants that it uses.

These perennial plants (which grow for several years) are 'hyperaccumulators' of nickel. They are capable, when fully mature, of accumulating 1.75-2.9% nickel (by weight) in their leaves. The plants can then be burned and the nickel recovered using a variety of conventional process routes. The company says that its technology will enable it to produce nickel at a negative net operating cost, and to develop deposits that are uneconomic using alternative process routes. The company says that nickel-rich soils should produce 20 t/ha of nickel-bearing biomass, which when burned should yield an ash at a grade of 30-40% Ni.

According to Viridian, the phytomining process involves the sowing of seeds of the company's perennial plants on suitable land, and the harvesting and field drying of the plants to produce hay using conventional agricultural equipment. Similar techniques could be used to clean up contaminated land.

Viridian reports that in its ongoing joint venture with Inco, ash produced from plants grown on contaminated land at the Port Colborne nickel smelter has been successfully added to the nickel converters.


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