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Recovery of the finest materials

The University of Liège’s GeMMe Laboratory (Mineral Engineering, Materials and Environment) in Belgium has developed a process to recover and recycle very fine waste metals. These are metals left over from grinding processes, typically less than 1mm of particle size.

The process uses bio-metallurgical leaching. Within a bioreactor the different metal composites are extracted selectively from the metal residues through the catalytic effect of an oxidising solution generated by micro-organisms.

A prototype of the bioreactor has been installed at the university. Each day it treats in a continuous flow 4kg of grinding residue and the process leads to the production of electrolytic copper and zinc of high purity with concentrates denser than lead. David Bastin, an engineer who oversees the GeMMe Laboratory project says: “It consists of a low temperature process which does not consume a lot of energy.”

Next year, thanks to European funding through the Ecoinnovation Biolix project, a first industrial unit for treating the residues of grinding, based on the process validated at the ULg, will be installed at the new Comet Traitements industrial site at Obourg also in Belgium.

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