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Feds fund $1M+ in critical minerals research at Laurentian, NOSM

Funds will be used to explore how to mine the element gallium more efficiently, as well as how to extract critical minerals from tailings ponds 
NSERC supplied more than $1 million in funding for two research projects at NOSM U and Laurentian. Taking part in the announcement is (from left) Dr. Tammy Eger, Chris Granger of Glencore, Dr. Corey Laamanen, Dr. John Ashley Scott, Viviane Lapointe, MP for Sudbury, Dr. Sujeenthar Tharmalingam, Dr. David Marsh, and Dr. Lynn Wells.

Research into ways of mining a key critical mineral more efficiently netted more than $1 million in federal funding for researchers at Laurentian University and NOSM University.

Announced May 13, the funding flows from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Alliance Missions program, said a joint news release from LU and NOSM U.

The funds will support research by Dr. Sujeenthar Tharmalingam at NOSM U, who is studying how to mine the critical mineral gallium more efficiently, and Dr. John Scott at Laurentian, who is looking into the extraction of critical minerals from tailings ponds.

“Investing in research is directly supporting the advancement of technology, innovation, and economic prosperity. The work of both Dr. Tharmalingam and Dr. Scott are vital to ensuring Canada plays a leading role in a net-zero world, while supporting economic growth, environmental rehabilitation, and job creation," said Sudbury MP Viviane Lapoint in a news release.

"Critical minerals represent a generational opportunity for Sudbury and our net-zero future. Investing in research is the best path forward to ensuring we are seizing this opportunity."

Tharmalingam, an assistant professor of molecular biology at NOSM University, was awarded $600,000 by NSERC to support his research project exploring how to use microbial sponges to mine gallium, a vital element in the production of semiconductors. 

Used in all kinds of electronic devices, a global semiconductor shortage has highlighted the need for alternative sources of gallium. China currently controls approximately 80 per cent of the world's supply, said the release.

Scott, a full professor of bioprocess engineering at the Bharti School of Engineering at Laurentian, received roughly $531,000 from NSERC for his project, "Microalgal biosorption of critical minerals from mining related tailing ponds - recovering key metals to better protect aquatic systems and water supplies." 

That project will receive the NSERC funding and  substantial in-kind contributions from critical industry partner Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations (Sudbury INO). Dr. Corey Laamanen serves as the project’s co-investigator, said the release.

This project will use naturally occurring microalgae bio-prospected from mining sites in Northern Canada to remove critical minerals such as copper, nickel and cobalt from mining effluents using natural biosorption processes, said the release. It will also investigate methods for metals recovery from the biomass and beneficial uses of the remaining biomass, such as a soil ameliorant to aid in land rehabilitation.


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