The bacteria worth billions


The bacteria worth billions

Remember PacMan? That 1980s classic game in which a yellow head with a big mouth eats pellets scattered in a maze and is chased by ghosts! You must be wondering what this has to do with Vale, right? One of our most revolutionary research projects is also a true hunt for minerals.

In partnership with BNDES and the University of São Paulo (USP), we are developing a technology that searches for bacteria that "eat" copper. They will be used to process copper - a process that separates the mineral from tailings - a substitute for other chemical processes. The metal will be extracted from the micro-organisms, reprocessed and put on sale.

Discover how the process works:

At the Sossego Mine, in Canaã dos Carajás (PA), which began operating in 2004, there is a barrage containing 20,000 cubic meters of water, equivalent to 8,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Copper processing waste is deposited in this lake. In it, there are about 90 million tonnes of waste with a content of 0.07% copper.

At least 35 kinds of bacteria and fungi in the dam feed on the copper there is blended with the waste.

About 20 USP researchers are trying to identify which micro-organisms can consume the largest amounts.

If all goes well, it will be possible to recover the copper from the bacteria, reprocess it, and put it on the market.

It is a revolutionary project in mining

Luiz Mello, director of the Vale Technology Institute (VTI).

Copper is increasingly rare in nature. In a ton of ore that is extracted, there is only 1% of the pure metal. That is why it is so valued.

Find out more
Learn more about the use of the metal and about our copper operations

Vale invested R$1,2 billion to deploy the Sossego Mine, between 1997 and 2004.

Investment in the research project: