Mining News

Biochar potential in northern mine reclamation

Posted by Alana Wilson on 9/26/2013 11:53:00 AM

By Chris Apps

Earlier this month, the Northern Latitudes Mining Reclamation Workshop was held in Whitehorse, Yukon in conjunction with the Canadian Land Reclamation Association’s Annual Meeting. The workshop brought together some of Canada’s brightest reclamation experts to “share information and experiences among varying stakeholders undertaking reclamation and restoration projects…” 1

Several papers presented at the workshop studied the use of a soil amendment known as ‘biochar.’ Biochar is the charcoal-like byproduct that results from burning biomass under limited oxygen conditions. This process is known as pyrolysis. The material is then added to soils to promote plant growth and hydrocarbon degradation. While this product is proven to be effective in southern climates, the Yukon Research Center at Yukon College is seeking to determine if biochar can have the same impact in the sandy soils and climates typical to the north.

The study of the applicability of biochar is particularly relevant given the steady growth of the mining sector in Canada’s north and the subsequent need for restoration and remediation strategies specific to the region. Relatively low levels of organic matter, low pH and high metal content characterize mine sites, particularly in the north. 2 Moreover, the already thin layers of fertile soil can easily be lost during the mining process. These conditions make the re-establishment of vascular plants far more difficult.

While the presentations concerning the subject of biochar focused heavily on scientific matters involving soil characteristics, seedling emergence rates, and the effectiveness of hydrocarbon remediation, continued study in this field has interesting implications for northern reclamation efforts. While Petelina et al. found that peat was a more effective soil amendment in northern Saskatchewan, it is not always locally available. 3 Additionally, transportation of organic media to remote communities may be cost prohibitive for the miner. This presents an excellent opportunity for sustainable business development, particularly in remote aboriginal communities. Biochar can be produced locally through establishing on or near-site facilities, recycling local organic wastes to be used as inputs. Typical biochar feed stocks include wood, fish byproduct and even animal bone/bone meal. Benefits of this nature may be hard to overlook for prospective miners. By tailoring reclamation efforts specific to local restoration needs, the potential for cost reductions may be realized. However, these reports and groups such as the Canadian biochar initiative underscore the need for further research into the feasibility of biochar’s application in the north.

As northern mining continues to develop in parallel with environmental regulations, it is vital to consider the opportunities new techniques may provide, particularly if they lead to quicker returns of reclamation bonds.


Show References

References

1 Polster, D.F. and C.B. Powter (Compilers), 2013. Overcoming Northern Challenges. Proceedings of the 2013 Northern Latitudes Mining Reclamtion Workshop and 38th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association. Whitehorse, Yukon September 9-12, 2013.
2 Stuart, K, E. Karppinen and S. Siciliano, 2013. Northern Biochar for Northern Remediation and Restoration. As compiled in Overcoming Northern Challenges. Proceedings of the 2013 Northern Latitudes Mining Reclamtion Workshop and 38th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association. Whitehorse, Yukon September 9-12, 2013.
3 Petelina, Elizaveta, A. Klyashtorin, and T. Yankovich. 2013. Biochar Application for Revegetation Purposes in Northern Saskatchewan. As compiled in Overcoming Northern Challenges. Proceedings of the 2013 Northern Latitudes Mining Reclamtion Workshop and 38th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association. Whitehorse, Yukon September 9-12, 2013.




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