Finding the Right Microbe: Teck, Genome BC and UBC Partner to Improve Water Quality

January 11, 2019

Microscopic organisms, or microbes, live in almost every habitat on earth, from arid deserts to arctic tundra to the deep sea. Microbes, which include bacteria and some plants, play an important role in human health and culture, from fermenting food, to producing fuel, and treating water to remove contaminants.

Because microbes are extremely diverse, the challenge in harnessing their power is finding and promoting the right ones for the job. When Teck discovered that microbes could be used to treat mine-affected water, we partnered with the experts at Genome BC and the University of British Columbia to find the best ones for the job.

Together, Teck and Genome BC funded a $400,000 research project at UBC to determine important information about microbial processes that remove selenium and nitrate from waste rock and water.

Dr. Clemente Miranda, Senior Environmental Engineer with Teck’s Applied Research & Technology group in Trail, B.C., has been working with Dr. Susan Baldwin, a professor in UBC’s chemical and biological engineering department, on a project to determine which microbes can make selenium removal, as part of our water treatment program, more efficient.

“This research will be used to help ensure bioreactors in our water treatment facilities work as effectively and efficiently as possible,” said Dr. Miranda. “Ultimately, we want to be able to make better decisions and develop better processes within our treatment facilities to reduce selenium levels. Understanding how process variability and microbial populations inside the reactor affect water treatment will go a long way towards that.”

Dr. Miranda says information from the research project will be able to be applied across other Teck facilities, such as the new Saturated Rock Fill facility, where the application of the field tools developed in the study will be tested.

“The ongoing collaboration between Teck and Dr. Baldwin is a great example of academic and industry partnerships,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome BC. “We are pleased to invest in work that applies genomics to real-life challenges.” 1

Teck is implementing a long-term plan to address water quality challenges in the Elk Valley, where five steelmaking coal operations are located. Learn more about Teck’s approach to managing water quality in the Elk Valley.

1Tiny but Mighty: UBC Research Explores How Microbes Can Support Water Treatment in Mining. October, 2017 https://www.bctechnology.com/news/2017/10/6/Tiny-but-Mighty-UBC-Research-Explores-How-Microbes-Can-Support-Water-Treatment-in-Mining.cfm



First Published on January 11, 2019