Max GorbachevAll materialsWrite to the authorChile is one of the world’s largest producers of copper. However, according to local media outlets, the process has put intense pressure on the country’s environment, with some areas near mines considered unsafe for human habitation. A Chilean scientist, Nadac Reales, claims to have found a way to prevent environmental pollution – a metal-eating bacteria. Ms Reales has been conducting tests on extremophiles, organisms that have the ability to thrive under extreme conditions.
She discovered that when starved, the bacteria goes to great lengths to feed itself. The first test showed that it took two months for a hungry extremophile to eat a nail. However, after being subjected to longer periods of starvation, the bacteria was able to devour a nail in just three days. The bacteria can be used against metals in the mining industry that cannot be recycled.
Chilean biotechnologist Nadac Reales shows a nail and screw inside a jar with metal-eater bacteria in her laboratory at a mining site in Antofagasta, Chile
Chemical and microbiological tests have shown that the bacteria is not harmful to humans or the environment, said the biotechnologist. Moreover, the disintegration of nails produced a lixiviant, a liquid medium used in hydrometallurgy. It can be used to extract copper in a more eco-friendly way. This means that green mining is “totally feasible”, says Ms Reales.
Her team is now working on securing financing from mining companies in order to conduct large-scale tests, which will see the bacteria attempt to “eat a medium-sized beam or a hopper”.
As mentioned earlier, Chile’s production of copper has drastically affected the nation’s environment, polluting both the land and air in cities where mines are located. The process has also had a detrimental affect on water since large quantities of it are used in copper extraction.