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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: October 15th 2012


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:: Novel “Green” Polymers Open the Door to Low-Cost Remediation of Metal-Contaminated Mine Wastes

A newly developed polymer (X3) which facilitates plant growth in metal-contaminated soils has opened the way to effective, low-cost, and environmentally friendly in-situ remediation of mining and industrial waste sites.

This innovative economical, environmentally safe polymer has a high metal binding efficiency which greatly mitigates the risks of leaching or dispersion into the environment. More significantly it can reduce the bioavailability of toxic metals and salinity in root zones and reduce soil penetration resistance thus facilitating root growth and allowing plant establishment on highly contaminated mine spoils that otherwise would be lethal to any vegetation. This improvement will contribute to stable ecosystems with reduced erosion risks. The X3 polymer also acts as a temporary water reservoir delivering water to plants and enhancing their survival, a particularly useful characteristic in arid environments.

The X3 technology is quite radical and has been successfully demonstrated at all stages from basic soil leaching tests to germination trials in Petri dishes, small scale pot tests and major glasshouse trials with selected grasses. At each step, the technology has met or exceeded its expectations. It enables grass to grow on previously barren mine waste rock and tailings. The grass plants are healthy and the application of X3 results in significant soil quality improvement to the point that second generation plants have been observed. Preliminary research has answered each of the initial questions of scale-up positively. Questions still to be investigated are whether X3 is a robust and sustainable technology applicable to many soil types and able to sustain permanent soil quality improvement and plant establishment in a field situation, through normal weather cycles and extremes. A long-term glasshouse trial will answer some of the questions but the technology will need to be successfully demonstrated in a field trial to establish a principal reference site.


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