When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Mining is big business in Brazil
Mining is big business in Brazil
Pedro Soares

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's largest mining company Vale has developed, in partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP), a method to identify bacteria and fungi capable of “eating” copper.

What exactly does that mean and why does it matter? Now with this process, waste generated by copper processing -- one of the steps involved in mineral extraction -- can thus be absorbed by these micro-organisms. The new technology could mean an extra gross income of $1.4 billion for Vale.

The project is being conducted at a tailings dam near Sossego mine, in Pará state, in northern Brazil. About 90 million tons of residue end up there, after valuable minerals have been separated from waste -- 0.07% of which is copper. The treatment would be worth some $600 million, more than twice the money invested on Sossego mine.

“This would be a revolutionary technology for the mining world. We would have a much higher copper recovery rate than today", says Eugênio Victorasso, director of copper operations in Vale.

However, the project is still far from being economically viable. The first step is to identify the most efficient copper-eating bacterium or fungus, that is, the one that can absorb it best.

So far, over 35 samples have been collected by USP researchers at the tailings dam. Scientists will be back there once more to look for other micro-organisms, hoping to increase the chances of selecting the very best. According to Victorasso, this is the trickiest part.

The second stage will focus on extracting copper from the bacteria and fungi, which will allow using the resulting material commercially. If it succeeds, Vale will be the first in the world to make profit out of milling copper and processing wastes.

Copper is a rare metal. For one ton of extracted ore, only 0.9% to 1.5% is pure copper -- in Sossego mine, the ratio is 1%. Today, one ton of copper is worth about $7,600.

Each year, Vale extracts 13 million tons of ore from the Sossego mine. To store more waste -- and maybe thanks to the copper-eating bacteria, more profits -- Vale is deepening its tailings dam by 4 meters.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Future

Injecting Feminism Into Science Is A Good Thing — For Science

Feminists have generated a set of tools to make science less biased and more robust. Why don’t more scientists use it?

As objective as any man

Anto Magzan/ZUMA
Rachel E. Gross

-Essay-

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a mystery played out across news headlines: Men, it seemed, were dying of infection at twice the rate of women. To explain this alarming disparity, researchers looked to innate biological differences between the sexes — for instance, protective levels of sex hormones, or distinct male-female immune responses. Some even went so far as to test the possibility of treating infected men with estrogen injections.

This focus on biological sex differences turned out to be woefully inadequate, as a group of Harvard-affiliated researchers pointed out earlier this year. By analyzing more than a year of sex-disaggregated COVID-19 data, they showed that the gender gap was more fully explained by social factors like mask-wearing and distancing behaviors (less common among men) and testing rates (higher among pregnant women and health workers, who were largely female).

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ