Natural Resources Roundup for June 2017

Natural Resources Roundup for June 2017

By Kyle Gracey

This month, I’m devoting more space than usual to a single study. It has implications for many of PreScouter’s Natural Resources clients. Keep reading below it, though, to get a glimpse of a new project at the intersection of genomics and mining waste remediation. As always, I welcome your suggestions for natural resources technologies we should highlight. Reach me here.

Study Sees Clean Energy Technologies Advancing

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual Energy Technology Perspective report. The report provides scenarios for achieving international climate policy goals, particularly the Paris Agreement. It also tracks the development of over two dozen clean energy technologies. This includes everything from carbon capture and sequestration to energy storage.

The report is partially a model of future scenarios, and partially an assessment of how technologies have progressed in their ability to meet international targets to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Assessments like these are produced regularly by various organizations. The IEA report merits greater consideration because the IEA tends to offer very conservative estimates of renewable energy progress and fossil fuel decline.

Thus, when the study notes the significant progress in electric vehicles, energy storage and solar/wind, it represents a surprisingly optimistic statement about the progress of renewable energy technologies. Equally so, the lack of progress noted for carbon capture and storage and more efficient coal burning suggests trouble ahead for the coal industry. Natural gas efficiency improvements, and the growth of gas as an alternative to coal, received a mixed review in the study, mainly due to fluctuations in the year-to-year gas growth and caution that it will likely serve as a medium-term electricity source at most, not a long-term solution.

Metals and other heavy industries fare better in the assessment, which sees significant potential and momentum for these industries to become more energy efficient. The study particularly mentions aluminum, cement, iron and steel as making progress. Nuclear’s future is fairly mixed in the study. It projects some contribution from nuclear in a carbon-constrained energy mix, but not radically different from the scale it plays today.

Genetic Tools Could Help Bacteria Break Down Mining Wastewater

Wastewater presents a persistent problem for miners. Companies have known for several decades that these wastewaters contain a host of bacteria. Some help to break down harmful chemicals, such as sulfur compounds. If harnessed, the bacteria might help break down harmful compounds faster or handle a wider range of chemicals. However, the range of bacteria in wastewater has remained somewhat mysterious. The exact biological mechanisms they use to consume chemicals also remains largely unknown.

New genetic and metabolic techniques are coming to the rescue. An international research team, led by Genome Canada and the University of Toronto, will use recent genomic techniques to understand the compounds produced by different bacterial species’ metabolisms. This will shed light on what ability different bacteria have to process various harmful chemicals commonly found in wastewater. Eventually, researchers will know enough to tweak the bacteria’s performance.

Three unspecified mines will participate in the first round of this study. Phase one will develop biological monitoring tools to help mines better predict the formation of harmful compounds in wastewater. This will take about four years. Phase two will produce tools to prevent the formation of these compounds, harnessing the bacteria already present. Results for phase two are expected over the next five to ten years.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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