Nitrogen removal using bacteria at the Minto Mine

Researcher crouching in a tangle of branches, digging soil into a bucket.

Mining activities can lead to contaminants entering the environment. Various technologies have been developed to prevent contaminants from entering water systems, however, these technologies are often costly in resources and labour, and incompatible with the conditions presented by cold climates. Therefore, there is a need to develop passive treatments that can operate in cold climates with minimal maintenance requirements.

For this research project, Northern Mine Remediation is collaborating with Minto Exploration Ltd., which operates a copper-gold mine in the Yukon. Using microbial populations native to the mine site, we will develop a lab scale biological treatment system to treat the contaminants of concern at the Minto mine. After the system has been optimized in the lab, it will be scaled up to operate at a pilot scale on site at Minto. This project will take two years to complete and will support the development of Minto’s remediation plan and help protect Yukon’s environment. The results of this project may inform future research and mine remediation in the North.

Project description

In the Fall of 2021, the team collected bacteria samples from several locations at the Minto Mine site. Following literature review and experimental design, the microbial biomass from each sample is to be developed in the YukonU Research Centre lab. These samples will be analyzed at the Institut National de la recherche Scientifique to determine if the predicted nitrifying or denitrifying bacteria are present in the Minto Mine samples. The laboratory optimization phase will follow the development and analyses of the biomass. This will involve the assessment of various parameters, such as carbon sources and various growth conditions, to create optimal conditions for the targeted bacteria. Lab-scale bioreactors will be designed to support the nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria, as well as mimic conditions specific to the Minto site.

In the spring and summer of 2022, a pilot scale experiment will be established at the Minto site. This portion of the experiment will be monitored in conjunction with Minto Explorations Ltd. staff, as well as with students from the Selkirk First Nation community.

This project will be completed by the end of 2023. The deliverables from this project will be the Master’s thesis, completed by Taylor Belansky, to meet part of the requirements for her Masters in Earth Science program. We also expect to deliver one peer-reviewed article, as well as a final report for Mitacs.

Project team

Dr. Guillaume Nielsen, Supervisor, Industrial Research Chair in Northern Mine Remediation, YukonU Research Centre
Professor Jean-Francois Blais, Supervisor, Institut National de la recherche Scientifique (INRS)
Taylor Belansky, Master’s student, Institut National de la recherche Scientifique (INRS), Yukon University
Ben McGrath, Laboratory Technician, YukonU Research Centre
Inderjeet Kaur, Research Assistant, Northern Mine Remediation
Minto environmental staff 

Project partners and funders

Institut National de la recherche Scientifique (INRS)

Minto Metals Inc.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Minto Metals Inc.