"Environment" research area

A New Approach to Improving Water Quality for the Midcontinent Rift

Primary Investigator - Joshua FeinbergPrimary InvestigatorJoshua Feinberg
Co-InvestigatorsDaniel Jones (Co-PI)
Industry PartnersKennecott Exploration Company/Rio Tinto
Award Type: Seed Grant - Graduate Research Scholar

Problem: The Midcontinent Rift (MCR) in Minnesota may contain the planet’s largest undeveloped deposit of copper, nickel, and platinum group elements. Minnesota’s mining industry faces barriers to this important economic opportunity because of water quality concerns. Mining activities can release acidic, metal-rich drainage in the environmentally sensitive region of Northern Minnesota. Current technologies for treating mining drainage cannot be applied to mining within the MCR because sulfide minerals in the MCR are in a different form (pyrrhotite) than in other mines (pyrite).

Solution: Microbiological oxidation of metal sulfides in mining waters intensifies the generation of harmful acidic drainage. Most studies seeking to prevent microbial oxidation focus on the oxidation of pyrite rather than pyrrhotite. The Feinberg Lab will address the gap in knowledge about oxidation of pyrrhotite using mineralogical, microbiological, and geochemical techniques. The researchers will identify and quantify the mechanisms of microbial oxidation in the MCR to reduce acidic drainage.

Impact: Understanding the mechanisms of microbial oxidation of pyrrhotite will enable researchers to develop preventative measures that inhibit the acid-producing microbial process. This project hopes to balance the economic opportunities of mining in the MCR with the protection of the cherished aquatic environments of Northern Minnesota.