Skip to main content
Logotip Europske komisije
Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Reductive bioleaching for extracting by-products from primary and secondary resources

Objectives of the commitment

1) To develop a novel biotechnical process for sustainable exploitation of EU metal resources such as laterites, polymetallic deep-sea nodules and weathered sulfide ore deposits.
2) To tailor downstream process for the specific recovery of the metal by-products cobalt (CRM) and scandium together with the main metal nickel. Other metals solubilised during bioprocessing (such as Cu, Zn, V and Mn) will also be targeted.
3) To validate the technology at TRL 5 for laterites in a pilot scale operation, preparing its future industrial application.
4) To increase the competitiveness of EU mining companies and technology providers (including SMEs).
5) To increase EU metal production potential as well as securing metal supply from EU sources and thus lowering supply risks for European industry.
6) To stimulate private engagement, investment and job creation in the European mining sector.

Description of the activities

RUBICON is an industrially-driven and led consortium with two mining companies (providing the case studies) and two technology providers in the field of mining. The consortium is completed by eight R&D institutions with strong experience in applied research and collaboration with industry. Market uptake of the RUBICON technology will be facilitated and organised in an industrially led work package on exploitation. This WP will include potential end-users (two mining companies) and will present the results of the techno-economic feasibility of the RUBICON process to be developed.
The RUBICON project specifically targets nickel-rich oxide ores and residues with the main by-products cobalt (CRM) and scandium as well as copper, manganese, zinc and vanadium. Industrial biomining of sulfide ores is an industrial reality but biomining of oxide ores is yet to be demonstrated in pilot- and full-scale operations.
In several laterite mines the limonitic oxide ores are stockpiled as mine residues (or accumulated as waste), for example at Koniambo in New Caledonia, due to the lack of a suitable processing technology. RUBICON will develop a bio-based environmentally-benign process that will extract the above mentioned metals from these residues without additional mining. However, the RUBICON process will also be suitable for new laterite ores and weathered sulfide ore deposits on land and marine deep-sea nodules and crusts.
Based on previous research experience and clustering with current EU projects related to biomining involving several RUBICON partners (BioMOre, ProMine, BioMinE, Bioshale and SysMetEx), as well as on the experience of two partners in developing the initial laboratory Ferredox reductive bioleaching process for laterites (du Plessis et al. 2011; Johnson et al. 2013; 2015 a and b; Ñancucheo et al. 2014), the RUBICON project will validate and demonstrate the technology at TRL 5 in a pilot scale operation for laterites (Gleeson et al. 2003; Eliopoulos et al. 2012). For deep-sea nodules and weathered sulfide ore deposits, the RUBICON technology will be optimised and validated at TRL 4. To develop a complete process, upstream and downstream processes are incorporated as well as economic and environmental analyses. Technology transfer and public outreach is secured.
WP1 will ensure a smooth project coordination and management. WP2 includes the description and analysis of the ore from the different mineral deposits and the processing products. WP3 will optimise bioleaching in laboratory bioreactor experiments with the various samples and with the help of modelling. WP4 will develop enhanced techniques for the extraction of metals from the leaching liquor (pregnant solution). WP5 analyses and integrates process parameters from WP3 and WP4 for upscaling, including reactor design and operation at the pilot scale developed according to economic and environmental considerations. WP6 will develop the exploitation strategy for the RUBICON process for technology transfer including market analysis and a prefeasibility study. WP6 will develop the exploitation strategy for the RUBICON process for technology transfer including market analysis and a prefeasibility study, and assess future research and technological development potential. WP7 will disseminate project description and results from all WPs to stakeholders, policy makers, industry, scientific community and the public.

Description of the expected impacts

The RUBICON technology based on reductive bioprocessing enables the exploitation of yet unused limonitic laterite ores and stockpiles in existing mines adding substantial value without additional exploration. These materials cannot be economically processed with current technologies. RUBICON technology is scalable, meaning that it should be applicable to ores of modest sizes, and not necessarily just to mega-deposits, like those where HPAL is used.
The RUBICON technology application increases European metal production including CRM to secure metal supply from European sources thus lowering delivery risks for European industry. The increased process efficiency of the RUBICON technology in comparison to existing laterite processing technologies (AHL and PAL/HPAL) is reflected in lower operational costs and a reduced environmental footprint (less energy and acid consumption). This technology can also be used for the exploitation of other oxide primary and secondary materials such as deep-sea nodules, oxidised zones of sulfide ores and mine/industrial waste.
Whereas HPAL technology requires mega-deposits to ensure high throughput rates and long term profitability, the RUBICON technology is based on known equipment and common materials of construction, thus ensuring that the technology is scalable to smaller throughputs. As such, it has the potential to unlock many European laterite deposits that would not be classified as mega-deposits. European mining and downstream processing applications as a result of the applied RUBICON technology would create new jobs and secure existing jobs in Europe. This project will increase collaborative partnerships. The new knowledge generated will be published in international journals, commercially exploited or patented.

Coordinating organisation & role

Name of the coordinating organisation: ERAMET Research (ERAMET)Country: FranceEntity profile: Private sector - large companyRole within the commitment:

ERAMET will be the leader of the project. It will provide samples of New-Caledonia Ni lateritic ore and also characterise ores and processed samples using XRD, microprobe and SEM-Qemscan. ERAMET will also bring its experience in hydrometallurgy to recover valuable metals (Ni, Co, Sc) by solvent extraction or ion exchange resin.

Other partners

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V.

Name of the organisation: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V. Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Fraunhofer will lead the CFRP and GFRP recycling research.
Fraunhofer will perform corrosion tests on the developed materials.
Fraunhofer will work with CIDAUT on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project. Fraunhofer is the Quality Manager of the Consortium and will oversee deliverables and general reporting are produced with the best possible quality following agreed review standards.

Fundacion Cidaut

Name of the organisation: Fundacion Cidaut Country: Spain Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: CIDAUT will lead the research activities on materials recycling and compounding, implementing lab scale demonstrators of each process at its premises and, later, supporting end-users upscale the processes.
CIDAUT will perform mechanical tests, microstructural analyses, injection moulding capability studies on the developed materails, and will work with Fraunhofer on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project.

RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV)

Name of the organisation: RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV) Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: RWTH will implement the novel 3D Generative Preforming process (3D Fibre Spraying) that enables to create high-value long fibre-reinforced 3D preforms for thermoplastic and thermoset composites at low process costs (different kinds of yarn as a raw material, low tooling costs due to low cavity pressures). This cost effective technology allows to align the sprayed fibres in order to produce high-performance, engineered anisotropic products.

Universita' di Cagliari

Name of the organisation: Universita' di Cagliari Country: Italy Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: University of Cagliari is one of the leading European organization in the resin design and coupling with thermoplastic and thermose materials. University of Cagliari will support in the definition of the composite materials, both from CFRP/GFRP, ABS and Rare Earth composite material.

Relight

Name of the organisation: Relight Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: RELIGHT will work with ITRB to provide the research partners with residues for the recycled ABS supply and the REE recovery processes, including their HydroWEEE process as part of the processes to be studied and analyzed.

Piaggio Aerospace

Name of the organisation: Piaggio Aerospace Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - large company
Role within the commitment: Piaggio Aerospace is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Piaggio will assist in the compounds selection, provide Fraunhofer with specific corrosion requirements on business jet size aircraft, and will assess that the developed materials performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

Blackshape Aircrafts

Name of the organisation: Blackshape Aircrafts Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: Blackshape Aircrafts is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Blackshape will support to fulfill the requirements of the aeronautics industry on ultra light jet, light jet and trainer for Syllabus, and will assess that the developed alloys performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

KU Leuven

Name of the organisation: KU Leuven Country: Belgium Entity profile: Academia
Role within the commitment: KUL will collaborate on the balance problem studies and will lead the rare earth recovery research with the solvometallurgical and ionometallurgical processes.
KUL will also contribute to the final compounding selection.
KUL is the Dissemination Manager of the project, promoting that all partners are active on the project Dissemination.

FIDAMC

Name of the organisation: FIDAMC Country: Spain Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: FIDAMC is going to lead the Work Package on Compression Moulding with CFRP-enhanced materials. As part of the AIRBUS Group, FIDAMC will also be able to provide the input material.
FIDAMC successfully developed a 3D Printer of own design to serve the Aerospace Industry and will be supporting Smart Lab 3D Industries in its 3D printer design.

COMPOSITE INNOVATION CENTER

Name of the organisation: COMPOSITE INNOVATION CENTER Country: Canada Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Composite Innovation Center is one of the world leading organization in the field of Composite materials, both from carbon fiber and vegetal-based fibers.
Composite Innovation center has successfully implemented, at lab-scale, recycling processes for CFRP and GFRP.

Existing EU Contribution: No

Period to implement the commitment: from 01-03-2016 to 01-03-2020