Comprising researchers from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff, the GW4 Alliance aim to use algae to remove heavy metals from mine water, whilst simultaneously producing biofuel.
Working alongside the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the Coal Authority and Veolia, GW4 will take untreated water samples from the Wheal Jane tin mine (pictured right) into the lab and explore algae’s potential as a method of removing cadmium and arsenic.
Providing biofuel and recycled metals
If successful, GW4 will be able to convert the algae into a solid state: from the product, heavy metals will be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry, while the leftover waste will be converted into biofuel.
“It’s a win-win solution to a significant environmental problem”
An active water treatment scheme has been funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) since the mine’s closure in 1992. The Coal Authority manage this scheme, whilst Veolia carry out operations, preventing damage to the nearby river Fal.
Whorrod Research Fellow Dr Chris Chuck from the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies said: “It’s a win-win solution to a significant environmental problem. We’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel.
“By making the clean-up process pay for itself, we can improve both the health and the environment of millions of people around the world”
“This technology could be applied to any type of mine or could even be used to clean up industrial effluent in the future.”
Dr Mike Allen, Microbial Biochemist at PML, said: “Acidic waste run off from mines is not a regional issue restricted to Cornwall, it’s a global problem. It’s a particular problem in the developing world where costly clean-up and remediation activities are ignored because of their high cost and low return.
“By making the clean-up process pay for itself, we can improve both the health and the environment of millions of people around the world.”