Bangor academic gives expert evidence to House of Commons on St David’s Day

A Bangor academic is presenting evidence to the House of Commons today on the security of mineral supplies to the UK today (1 March 2018). Professor Barrie Johnson of the University’s School of Biological Sciences is an internationally leading expert on using biological methods for mineral extraction.

His contribution to today’s Committee is based on his contribution to a major UK research project investigating solutions for the recovery of cobalt. This Natural Environment Research Council funded project is aiming to increase the UK's exploration, mining and recovery of cobalt, a metal of great strategic and economic importance.

Prof Johnson’s expertise lies in ‘biomining’, a technique described by Scientific American magazine as one of ten ‘world-changing ideas’ in the December 2011 issue of Scientific American. Biomining uses specific microbes which inhabit extreme environments, called "extremophiles", to extract minerals from rocks.

Professor Johnson investigates extreme environments where these microbes are found, and adapts them in order to extract valuable minerals, which would otherwise be wasted, and to develop new bioengineering solutions for remediating acid mine drainage and industrial wastewaters.

Cobalt (Co) is classified as an E-tech element by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) which means it is considered essential for a technologically advanced, low-carbon society. Cobalt is designated a critical element by the European Union's Raw Materials Initiative.

Around 55,000 tonnes of Co are produced globally each year. Less than 0.1 % of this is produced within Europe, yet European countries use around 30 % of globally produced cobalt.

Europe has large untapped reserves of cobalt in Poland, Greece, Macedonia and Kosovo, but recovery and extraction problems need to be resolved.

One of the primary difficulties facing cobalt recovery from sulphide copper ores relates to its flotation when using conventional processes. Recent advances in bioprocessing ores and mineral concentrates have highlighted potential new techniques.

Publication date: 1 March 2018