Primary Investigator: Cara Santelli
Co-Investigators: Tingying Xu (Postdoctoral Scholar)
Industry PartnersClearWater BioLogic
Award Type: Seed Grant – Postdoctoral Research Scholar 

Problem: A variety of metals mined in northern Minnesota are commonly used in the electronics, communications, and energy industries. However, mining occurs at a cost. High concentrations of metals in surrounding soils and waters can result from improper management of facilities and the mishandling of waste materials, posing significant risk to ecosystems and human health. Currently, few options exist for effective remediation of heavy metal contaminated waters.

Solution: Research shows that bioremediation of metal-laden water using microbial communities as a natural filtration system is effective. Specific Manganese-oxidizing “Mn-oxidizing” microbes act to remove Mn from metal rich fluids through natural redox reactions. Under the right conditions (e.g., pH), these reactions form Mn-oxide minerals that incorporate or adsorb the other metals. This moves manganese and metals from the liquid to solid phase and effectively lowers metal concentrations within the fluid. This project will investigate Mn-oxidizing microbes and their use in a bioremediation system to determine the capacity of this microbial system to simultaneously capture and remove other metals (Cobalt, Copper, Nickel) along with Mn from mining wastewater.

Impact: This research holds potential implications for both Minnesota and the mining industry at large. Development of an effective and low-cost bioremediation system to treat the heavy metal impaired waters of northern MN would provide significant ecosystem benefits. At the same time, Mn-oxidizing microbes offer a unique and valuable technology, if metals captured and enriched by the biominerals are selectively recoverable for downstream applications.

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