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Japan tests in Chile bacteria-based method to revive depleted copper mines

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A Japanese government-backed firm has begun testing a new technology to extract copper by using sulphuric acid mixed with multiple species of bacteria at a mine in Northern Chile.

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp., known as JOGMEC, will conduct a two-year large-scale experiment to examine whether the red metal can be extracted on a commercial scale from ores that have very low copper content, news agency EFE reports (in Spanish).

According to Taro Kamiya, chief researcher at JOGMEC, the bacteria used in the method is naturally found on copper ores. “As copper ores from [the testing area} provide high iron content rates, the bacteria can be easily activated,” he was quoted as saying.

If successful, the revolutionary process would make possible to resume mining operations in most abandoned copper mines, the company said.

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