Canada firm eyes clean up of abandoned mines
By Nicole Mordant
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) – A small Canadian
company is helping some of the world’s biggest miners clean up
their polluted waste water in a novel process that it says pays
BioteQ Environmental Technologies Inc. says its water
treatment method offers hope that the seepage of heavy metals
from abandoned mine sites, which kills and harms aquatic life
often for decades as no one wants to foot the bill, can be
The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company has developed
a chemical and biological process that purifies dirty mine
water but at the same time extracts from it metals like copper,
nickel and zinc, which it then sells back to metals producers.
“We sell those at competitive rates, which then offsets the
cost of the water treatment,” Brad Marchant, BioteQ’s president
and chief executive told Reuters in an interview this week.
Marchant said that other clean-up companies typically use
lime to tackle the problem of acid rock drainage, which is the
name given to the outflow of acidic, metal-bearing water from
operating or deserted mines.
Lime neutralizes the water’s acidic pH, creating water that
meets government standards. But the process also leaves behind
a metal-filled and potentially hazardous sludge, he said.
“The environmental difficulty is that that sludge then has
to be stored forever… and the metals are ‘lost’ forever,”
By contrast, BioteQ uses hydrogen sulfide in its treatment
plants, which allows metal ions to be removed from the acid
These can then be formed into salable metal sulfide
products containing high concentrations of metals like zinc,
copper and nickel. Clean water comes out the other end, either
with no sludge or very limited sludge, Marchant said.
“BioteQ’s BioSulphide process is a better environmental
solution with superior economics relative to lime treatment,”
Canaccord analyst Sara Elford said in a 2004 research report.
BioteQ is treating water and extracting metals at three
major mine sites in North America: Canadian nickel miner
Falconbridge’s Raglan mine in Quebec, U.S. copper giant Phelps
Dodge’s Copper Queen site in Arizona and Breakwater Resources’
Caribou mine in New Brunswick.
The firm treats more than 5 billion liters of water a year
and at the Phelps Dodge plant alone, it expects to recover 2
million pounds of copper annually.
BioteQ is also investigating the financial viability of
installing a treatment plant at the Britannia copper mine, a
visible, abandoned site on the highway between Vancouver and
Whistler, the two communities that will host most of the 2010
Winter Olympics events.
It has built a demonstration plant at the site, which was
considered the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth
in the 1930s but is now one of North America’s worst sources of
heavy metal pollution.
Marchant is hopeful that BioteQ’s analysis will show that
the money it can earn from selling the copper, lead, zinc and
cadmium it can recover at Britannia, will pay for the clean up.
Given the number of abandoned mines worldwide, that will mean a
lot of new business for BioteQ and a boon for the environment.
BioteQ’s key shareholders are European and North American
ethical funds, which are mutual funds that invest in socially
responsible companies. The firm’s stock, which is listed on the
TSX Venture Exchange, last traded at 80 Canadian cents. In the
past 12 months, it has hovered between 66 and 90 cents.