PD Dr. Lothar Mennicken representing the BMBF handed over the grant notification of the ECOMETALS project on April 15, 2014. The total budget of the project amounts to 4.2 million Euro, of which 1.8 million are granted to Helmholtz-Centre Dresden Rossendorf (HZDR) as the coordinating scientific partner. ECOMETALS – an acronym for innovative, environmentally friendly processes for the extraction of strategic and rare metals from primary and secondary resources” – is part of the research and development agenda of BMBF for new resource technologies „Wirtschaftsstrategische Rohstoffe für den Hightech-Standort Deutschland”. ECOMETALS is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology which belongs to HZDR. The French Geological Survey (Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières – BRGM) receives funding to the amount of 1 Million Euro from Agence National de la Recherche (ANR), an organization funding science and research in France.
"We nearly gather all exerts from industry, research and academia in this project in France and Germany in the moment, says Dr. Kathrin Pollmann from HIF, the project manager of ECOMETALS. Together, the 15 project partners aim at strengthening the application of environmental-friendly biotechnological methods in copper extraction in Europe. Here the second most important source of this metal is to be found: Kupferschiefer. Currently, it is mined by the mining company KGHM. Additionally, significant amounts come from tailings in Germany (e.g. mansfelder Land). In order to win the ore by means of biotechnology the experts investigate in various methods. One is the leaching of copper and further associated metals from, the other is the biological separation of copper from leaching solutions.
"The planned methods are to be applied in Kupferschiefer deposits all over the world", says Dr. Francoise Bodénan from the French partner Brgm. Therefore, the scientists want to avoid the use of sulfuric acid which are currently necessary to solubilize certain copper mineralizations. Biotechnological methods are superior to classical mechanical and chemical processing in one important aspect: many metal are available now only in very complex compositions, and in very low concentrations. This applies to both natural primary resources as well as secondary resources such as electronic waste. It is not possible to extract the metals through conventional methods. In order to win the metals bio methods are best suited to increase the amount and diversity of available minable resources, and to achieve more environmental friendliness.
Biotechnological methods are therefore a more energy-efficient, environmentally friendlier and cheaper way to win relevant industry metals and strategic hightech raw materials. The methods make use of bacteir, other microrganisms and bio molecules. These are able to leach the desired metals (bioleaching) and separate them selectively (biosorption and biomineralization).
The projec ECOMETALS is part of a common initiative of BMF and ANR for a stronger networking in research and development for new resource technologies in Germany and France. Both countries have agreed upon this on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Élysée treaty in January 2013. Most important industry partner is the Polish mining company KGHM. Furhter organizations involved in the project are Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, TU Bergakademie Freiberg, G.E.O.S. mbh, UVR-FIA, B.R.A.I.N. AG, Aurubis AG, Bio Intelligent Service, GéoRessources, LaTEP, Air Liquide, Milton Roy Mixing.