DS0102 - Innovation technologique pour analyser, remédier ou réduire les risques environnementaux

Agromining of strategic metals from contaminated matrices – AGROMINE

Agromining of strategic metals (Ni, Co) from contaminated matrices

AGROMINE is the conception of agro-metallurgical production chains based on the culture of hyperaccumulator plants on contaminated matrices (soils, wastes) or naturally rich in metals (ultramafic soils), to produce high value metal compounds. These chains are developed for nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co), metals of high strategic importance. Based on a previous work devoted to the synthesis process of a nickel salt (ANSH) from the biomass of A. murale, they combine agromining and hydrometallurgy.

Increasing scientific knowledge on metal recovery from secondary resources by agromining and production of valuable metal products by ecotechnologies, and transferring knowledge to application

AGROMINE aims at building a chain of process to recover strategic metals from secondary resources, to produce commercially valuable compounds. It combines agromining and hydrometallurgy. Ni and Co are present in natural ultramafic soils, mining sterile heaps and wastes from several industrial sectors. We propose i) to deal specifically with degraded mined land, mine sterile heaps and industrial metal-rich residues, and ii) to target specific niche Ni and Co products with an “eco-friendly” label. In several parts of the world, affected areas cover hundreds of km2 and millions of m3 of wastes are produced annually by mining and metal industries. These materials and degraded soils need a specific treatment before phytomining crops can be implemented, which constitutes a real scientific challenge. The orientation towards the production of organic-metal compounds from hyperaccumulator biomass responds to socio-economic demand. The final issue is to improve degraded soil material quality and waste characteristics. <br />The scientific objectives concern 1) the improvement of knowledge on the mechanisms of metal fate and forms in agromined materials/soils, control of metal bioavailability, its accumulation to hyperaccumulators (localization, speciation, dynamics of accumulation-translocation), cultivar selection, and plant response to agronomic techniques for increasing biomass and metal uptake and 2) the design of new synthesis pathways to produce high value products from the biomass. <br />The technological objectives are to develop 1) new technologies applicable on or off site to implement agromining operations at the field scale and 2) hydrometallurgy technologies to recover metals and produce high value compounds. The chain will be evaluated through Life Cycle Assessment. To achieve these goals, experiments will be conducted at pilot scale, based on basic research related to agronomy and metallurgical mechanisms. The technology will be transferred to the two partner companies.

The AGROMINE project involves 4 research teams of Nancy (LRGP and CRPG, LIEC, LSE of Labex Ressources 21) and two SMEs (Soléo Services and Microhumus), which have a long collaboration history. It also has strong connections with joint activities between Labex Ressources 21 and ERAMET, a major French nickel mining company. ERAMET has expressed its interest for the project by providing a support letter. The consortium maintains regular contacts with the main international actors of phytomining: Albania (UAT), Québec (INRS-ETE), China (SYSU), Australia (CMLR-UQ) and the United States (USDA).
Work is organized in 1 management task and 5 scientific tasks, including:
1. Characterization of matrices, including soils, sediments and sludge: new agrosystems containing metal contaminated matrices will be designed, characterized and prepared to grow hyperaccumulators;
2. Selection of hyperaccumulators and control of metal bioavailability to identify the best Ni and/or Co hyperaccumulators for each environmental condition and metal recovery;
3. Implementation of agromining at platform scale with constructed agrosystems;
4. Hydrometallurgy for metal recovery from biomass and production of high-value compounds, based on our experience on the patented synthesis of a Ni salt (ANSH), and focus on the preparation of Co salts and Ni and Co carboxylates;
5. Life Cycle Assessment and economic evaluation of the agromining chain as well as its transfer to the end-users.

The geobotanical survey led to the discovery of 18 new Ni hyperaccumulators (HAs) in tropical environments.
- The localization and speciation of Ni in the biomass of these plants, in the course of acquisition, are very original results.
- A HA of Co, from South Africa, could be grown.
- Soil formulas made from industrial sludge rich in Ni, potting soil and biochar, allowed the development of Ni HA under laboratory conditions.
- HAs of Ni have been successfully grown in tanks filled with soil formulated with mud in real climatic conditions.
- Ni can be extracted from HA in soft conditions (with water) and valorised by different routes.

AGROMINE is intended to produce economic and social value from low value material and land. It is not planned to supplant conventional mining technologies. Contrary to popular belief, our field data have shown that this process makes profit. The results obtained in AGROMINE would be of great importance for the two SMEs and for the ECONICK start-up, which is currently in an incubating process in Nancy.

Peer-reviewed articles
1. Van der Ent A., Baker A.J.M, Reeves R.D., Chaney R.L., Anderson C.W.N., Meech J.A., Erksine P.D., Simonnot M.O., Vaughan J., Morel J.L., Echevarria G., Fogliani B., Qiu R., Mulligan D.R., Agromining: farming for metals in the future? Environmental Science & Technology 49 (2015) 4773-4780
2. Nti Nkruma P., Baker A.J.M., Chaney R.L., Erskine P.D., Echevarria G., Morel J.L., van der Ent A., Current status and challenges in developing nickel phytomining: an agronomic perspective. Plants and Soils, 406 (2016) 55-69
3. Saad R., Kobaissi C., Robin C., Echevarria G., Benizri E., Nitrogen fixation and growth of Lens culinaris as affected by nickel availability : a pre-requisite for optimization of agromining. Environmental and Experimental Botany , dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.envexpbot.2016.06.010
Book chapters
Simonnot M.O., Vaughan J., Laubie B. Processing of bio-ore and products. In: Agromining: farming for metals, Springer Inc. in press
2. Pons M.N., Rodrigues J., Simonnot M.O. Life cycle assessment and ecosystem services of agromining. In: Agromining: farming for metals, Springer Inc. in press

Soils and wastes contaminated with heavy metals are prone to create major problems because of their toxicity and their management is generally expensive. But this drawback can be turn into advantage if these solid matrices contain compounds of industrial interest. However, metal concentrations are generally too low for conventional mining and metallurgical recovery. Hence, new extraction and processing technologies must be developed to ensure production of strategic metals, while preserving soil functions, and improving soil and waste quality by decreasing their toxicity. These processes would provide a range of economic, social and environmental values from materials and lands of initial low value.
AGROMINE is the conception of agro-metallurgical production chains based on the culture of hyperaccumulator plants on contaminated matrices (soils, wastes) or naturally rich in metals (ultramafic soils) to produce high value metal compounds. These chains are developed for nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co), metals of high strategic importance. They are based on a previous work devoted to the synthesis process of ammonium and nickel sulfate double salt hexahydrate (ANSH) from the biomass of Alyssum murale. They combine agromining (or phytomining) and hydrometallurgy.
• Agromining is an alternative treatment for contaminated soils and wastes, and an application of phytotechnologies to exploit secondary resources. On soils naturally rich in metals it generates incomes for farmers or managers and metal removal improves soil (or matrix) quality. Here the main innovation is the production of hyperaccumulator plants on constructed agrosystems.
• Hydrometallurgy produces metals with a niche strategy, seeking forms of Ni and Co of strong industrial interest. Focus is put here on Ni and Co carboxylates, which is completely innovative, but attention will still be given on Ni and Co salts for surface treatment.
The AGROMINE project involves 4 research teams of Nancy (LRGP and CRPG, LIEC, LSE of Labex Ressources 21) and two SMEs (Soléo Services and Microhumus), which have a long collaboration history. It also has strong connections with joint activities between Labex Ressources 21 and ERAMET, a major French nickel mining company. ERAMET has expressed its interest for the project by providing a support letter. The consortium maintains regular contacts with the main international actors of phytomining: Albania (UAT), Québec (INRS-ETE), China (SYSU), Australia (CMLR-UQ) and the United States (USDA).
Work is organized in 1 management task and 5 scientific tasks, including:
1. Characterization of matrices, including soils, sediments and sludge: new agrosystems containing metal contaminated matrices will be designed, characterized and prepared to grow hyperaccumulators;
2. Selection of hyperaccumulators and control of metal bioavailability to identify the best Ni and/or Co hyperaccumulators for each environmental condition and metal recovery;
3. Implementation of agromining at platform scale with constructed agrosystems;
4. Hydrometallurgy for metal recovery from biomass and production of high-value compounds, based on our experience on the patented synthesis of a Ni salt (ANSH), and focus on the preparation of Co salts and Ni and Co carboxylates;
5. Life Cycle Assessment and economic evaluation of the agromining chain as well as its transfer to the end-users.
AGROMINE is intended to produce economic and social value from low value material and land. It is not planned to supplant conventional mining technologies. Contrary to popular belief, our field data have shown that this process makes profit: agromining on 4 000 ha producing 200 kg Ni ha-1 converted in ANSH would give an economic benefit of c.a. € 6.15 million per year. The results obtained in AGROMINE would be of great importance for the two SMEs and for the ECONICK start-up, which is currently in an incubating process in Nancy.

Project coordinator

Madame Marie-Odile Simonnot (Laboratoire Réactions et Génie des Procédés)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

CRPG-UMR 7358 Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques
LSE Laboratoire Sols et Environnement
LIEC/UMR7360 Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire des Environnements Continentaux
LRGP - UMR7274 CNRS UL Laboratoire Réactions et Génie des Procédés
Soléo Services
Microhumus Microhumus Laboratoire

Help of the ANR 396,264 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 36 Months

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