Western Morning News reports that Westcountry scientists in the U.K. are using algae to develop an innovative new method of cleaning up contaminated mine water while harvesting valuable resources in the process. Research teams from universities in Exeter, Bristol, Bath and Cardiff are piloting the technique using untreated water from Cornish tin mines.

“We’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel,” said University of Bath research fellow, Dr. Chris Chuck. “This technology could be applied to any type of mine or could even be used to clean up industrial effluent in the future.”

Scientists from the four universities have collaborated with researchers from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) to collect samples of untreated water from Wheal Jane tin mine, near Truro. The mine was closed in 1992 and since then the Department for Food and Rural Affairs has funded a water treatment scheme to protect the River Fal from pollution.

Samples from Wheal Jane will be used to grow algae and the project will explore whether the organism is effective in removing materials such as arsenic and cadmium from the mine water. The scientists are hoping the process will allow them to remove precious heavy metals from the water while at the same time generate biofuels.

If it works Dr. Chuck said it could present a “win-win” solution to a significant environmental problem. Teams will then look to convert the algae into a solid from which the metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. Any remaining solid waste will be used to make biofuels.

Dr. Mike Allen, director of the Algal Biotechnology and Innovation Centre at PML, said the new method could have a significant impact on exiting and former mining communities around the world. “Waste run off from mines is not a regional issue restricted to Cornwall, it’s a global problem,” he said.

“It’s a particular problem in the developing world where cleanup and remediation activities are ignored because of their high cost and low return. By making the cleanup process pay for itself, we can improve both the health and the environment of millions of people around the world.”