Getting crazy ants under control

By Emily Lehmann

One of the world’s most invasive pests – the yellow crazy ant – is anything but a small problem in Australia’s top end.

Called ‘crazy’ for their erratic and frantic movements, these unwelcome critters were accidentally introduced into Australia and are a threat to native wildlife including other ant species.

Their capacity for destruction has been most devastatingly felt on Christmas Island where crazy ant supercolonies have formed and killed more than 20 million red crabs.

That’s why we have been leading efforts to control and eradicate the pest ant species across northern Australia.

We're keeping these crazy critters in check.
We’re keeping these crazy critters in check.

As part of this mission, we’ve helped local company Yolngu Business Enterprises (YBE2) join the effort by developing a new service in crazy ant control.

Operating in north-east Arnhem Land, YBE2 is contracted to undertake rehabilitation work at Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove Bauxite mine. The Gove area is ridden with yellow crazy ants.

Crazy ant infestations pose a significant challenge to mining and effective rehabilitation, as digging up the earth risks spreading them. The site needs to be continually monitored and treated to clear it of any colonies.

Through the Researchers in Business program, our ant ecologist Dr Ben Hoffmann worked with the YBE2 team on the ground to develop protocols to monitor the land, and identify and collect data to accurately map ant infestations using a GPS system.

About 200 hectares of infested area was mapped by YBE2 staff and underwent treatment. Since the project ended, a further 200 hectares has been mapped for treatment later this year.

The team gained valuable data on the impact the ants and treatments have on the local environment, which could be used to improve YBE2’s rehabilitation processes.

This research and development has given YBE2 the capacity to monitor and capture data from the land, secured them a contract to control crazy ants on the mine site and will potentially open up new business opportunities.

It’s also putting a halt to the spread of yellow crazy ants, helping to protect the Australian environment.

Read more about our work with small and medium-sized businesses or our biosecurity research.


Turning mining wastewater into rainwater

By Emily Lehmann

Mining is a big player in our economy so it’s important we use the most innovative and sustainable practices where possible. This is where we come in.

We’ve created a new environmentally-friendly treatment to turn mining wastewater into rainwater at a Queensland mine site – one that can dramatically reduce sludge by up to 90 per cent.

No sludge in sight. Well, up to 90 per cent less.

No sludge in sight. Well, up to 90 per cent less.

Sludge is an oozy, mud-like material and is a by-product of many conventional wastewater processes.

In large volumes sludge is problematic because it needs to be moved and stored in pits or landfill for long-term disposal. This is timely, expensive and can impact on the environment.

As the Australian mining industry is estimated to generate hundreds of millions of tonnes of wastewater each year, reducing sludge will have huge economic and environmental benefits.

When we applied the new technology, called Virtual Curtain, at the first commercial minesite recently, the treatment effectively removed a range of metal contaminants and the equivalent of around 20 Olympic swimming pools of rainwater-quality water was safely released into the environment.

The CSIRO-developed treatment utilises hydrotalcites, which are minerals sometimes found in stomach antacids, to simultaneously trap a variety of contaminants – including arsenic, cadmium, and iron – in one step.

The Virtual Curtain treatment is more cost-effective than traditional lime-based methods used by the mining industry and reduces the steps involved.

It doesn’t require complex infrastructure or chemistry to apply it and the small amount of material that’s leftover is often high in metal value which can be re-mined to partially offset treatment costs.

The licensed technology, which can be applied to a range of industrial applications, is available through Australian company Virtual Curtain Limited.

Hear from our expert, Dr Grant Douglas, in the video below.

For more info read the media release.

Media enquiries: Emily Lehmann|+61 39545 8746|emily.lehmann@csiro.au

 


Getting water smart, metal by metal

water

Water is a key ingredient in metal production.

 

By Emily Lehmann

In an arid country like Australia, we need to make sure we do our best to conserve water and we’ve come up with a way that will help industry do just that.

It involves life cycle analysis, and it can calculate the amount of water used – both directly and indirectly – in the production of metals.

To give you an idea, we calculated that it takes 1600 litres of water to make the 19 kilograms of copper in an average medium-sized car. Add up the water required to make all of the other metals found in your car and you’re practically driving around a swimming pool!

Water is an essential ingredient in a metal’s transformation from an impure mineral ore to a pure metal product. The more impurities, or the lower the grade of the ore, the more water it takes to process it.

In Australia many of our high grade ores have been depleted, so industry is increasingly mining these lower-grade ores. Mines are also often located in remote Australia where water is a scarce resource so as you can imagine, the interest in reducing water use is high.

While the minerals industry already makes good use of water recycling opportunities, this in itself is not always the best way to improve sustainability.

There's more copper (and water) in your car than you might think.

There’s more copper (and water) in your car than you might think.

“Recycling water is not always a straightforward task,” says lead researcher, Dr Nawshad Haque.

“Water may be degraded or contaminated during mineral extraction and production processes, and in order for it to be reused it must be treated to meet the specifications required for plant operations.”

Our research team focussed on the most water intensive metals including nickel, copper and gold. By providing information on water usage and comparisons to other industrial processes, the tool will enable better water management.

You can read the full story in the latest issue of resourceful, released this week.


Get recycling people, it’s National Recycling Week

By Emily Lehmann

As part of National Recycling Week, we thought we’d shine the light on recycling’s superhero: aluminium.

Most of us come into contact with this lightweight and durable metal every day – think soft drink cans, al-foil and computers.

It’s 100 per cent recyclable, and 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.

According to Australia’s largest aluminium recycler, Alcoa, it can be recycled from bin to the shelf in as little as 60 days.

Learn more about how this metal rocks in our infographic:

Aluminium In The Rough

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Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week runs from 11 to 17 November 2013. Visit Planet Ark for some tips on recycling aluminium cans.


Gum leaves rich in lil’ gold nuggets

By Emily Lehmann

Gum leaf samples showing traces of manganese.

Gum leaf samples showing traces of manganese.

While money doesn’t grow on trees per se, we’ve found that precious gold does.

Our scientists have revealed that gum trees from the Western Australian goldfields draw up tiny particles of gold via their roots and it ends up in their leaves and branches.

The study published in Nature Communications today provides the first evidence of gold growing in trees.

Eucalyptus leaves showing traces of different minerals.

“The eucalypt acts as a hydraulic pump – its roots extend tens of metres into the ground and draw up water containing the gold. As the gold is likely to be toxic to the plant, it’s moved to the leaves and branches where it can be released or shed to the ground,” CSIRO geochemist, Dr Mel Lintern says.

Prospectors be warned – the discovery is unlikely to start an old-time gold rush – the ‘nuggets’ are just one-fifth the diameter of a human hair and invisible to the eye.

Yet, it could provide a golden opportunity for mineral exploration, as the leaves or soil underneath the trees where they have fallen could indicate gold ore deposits buried up to tens of metres underground and under sediments that are up to 60 million years old.

“The leaves could be used in combination with other tools to get an idea of what’s happening below the surface without the need to drill. It could enhance gold exploration in a way that’s more targeted and environmentally friendly,” says Dr Lintern.

The research team used the powerful x-ray elemental imaging equipment at the Australian Synchrotron to locate and see the gold in the leaves.

Read more on our media page.

Media: Emily Lehmann, P: +61 419 271 822, Emily.Lehmann@csiro.au


Animation: A closer look at the ‘mag’ element

By Emily Lehmann

Back in the heyday of The Beatles and mop-top haircuts, mag wheels were all the rage.

Mags were the earliest lightweight alloy wheel made from magnesium. They were the start of a lasting fashion trend and the car industry’s move towards making lighter vehicles.

The lightest of all metals, magnesium can be used to replace other heavy steel components to make lighter, more fuel efficient cars that benefit the environment and your hip pocket.

A key challenge for industry however, has been the ability to produce the metal economically.

This could soon change with our cost-effective and environmentally friendly MagSonic process.

MagSonic produces magnesium as fast as the speed of sound, while using significantly less energy. It could make the metal viable to produce in Australia.

Check out how our MagSonic process works in this short animation.


Back to the future to uncover hidden riches

By Emily Lehmann

LECODE modelling

Iron rich material in the deposit: The orange showing areas with the highest percentage of iron.

We’ve created our very own time machine – a new modelling tool that can simulate millions of years of landscape evolution and possibly reveal hidden treasures.

Using the tool called LECODE, and iVEC’s supercomputer, our scientists travelled back in time to pinpoint the exact moment when deposits formed in the iron-rich Hamersley province in Western Australia.

The study has revealed potential locations for hidden and unexplored iron ore deposits.

“We simulated how erosion and water flow influenced the transport of sediment over thousands to millions of years, showing how the iron-rich soils were carried from one place to another to build sedimentary deposits,” says researcher Dr Guillaume Duclaux.

“Sedimentary (aka alluvial) deposits at the Earth’s surface can host significant mineral resources, however exploring them is challenging because they are built from layers of transported material that effectively hide the mineral deposits within,” he says.

“By exploring the material’s movement from the hill slopes to the valleys, we can predict the location of larger deposits hosted underground.”

There’s a high economic value attached to sedimentary iron deposits, which provide 40 per cent of Australia’s iron ore exports.

“Geologists and explorers could use the tool to make new mineral discoveries and it will reduce exploration costs and the environmental impacts associated with traditional drilling techniques,” Dr Duclaux says.

“This research has brought up new questions around the processes that trigger the formation of this type of deposit, which we’re investigating next,” he says.

These graphs shows the accumulation of iron-rich material in sedimentary deposits.

The accumulation of iron-rich (Fe) material in the deposit.

Our tool is a 3D modelling code tailored to solve problems related to basin and landscape evolution. It could also be applied to other resources, such as gold and petroleum.

Dr Duclaux, Dr Tristan Salles and Dr Erick Ramanaidou presented this work at the AusIMM Iron Ore 2013 conference last week.

Learn more about CSIRO’s research in mineral exploration.


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