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Future

A Copper-Eating Bacteria's Billion-Dollar Boost To Brazilian Mining

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.

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Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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