Principal Investigator: Cara Santelli, Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Co-investigator: Tingying Xu, Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Industry Partners: ClearWater BioLogic

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 a significant risk to ecosystems and human health. Remediation of heavy metal impaired water in a cost-effective and eco-friendly way is needed, but few options currently exist.

Solution: Bioremediation of metal-laden water using microbial communities as a natural filtration system has been shown to be effective. Specific Mn-oxidizing microbes act to remove Mn from metal-rich fluids through an oxidation/reduction reaction that, under the right conditions, precipitates Mn oxide minerals from the solution, effectively lowering the Mn concentration in 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 (Co, Cu, Ni) with Mn from mining wastewater.

Impact: This work stands to offer two significant advances that would highly impact Minnesota and the mining industry. The 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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