Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Microbiology of Cobalt in Mining-Affected Environments
Cobalt is recognised by the European Commission as a "Critical Raw Material" due to its irreplaceable functionality in many types of modern technology, combined with its current high-risk status associated with its supply. Despite such importance, there remain major knowledge gaps with regard to the geochemistry, mineralogy, and microbiology of cobalt-bearing environments, particularly those associated with ore deposits and subsequent mining operations. In such environments, high concentrations
... of Co (up to 34,400 mg/L in mine water, 14,165 mg/kg in tailings, 21,134 mg/kg in soils, and 18,434 mg/kg in stream sediments) have been documented. Co is contained in ore and mine waste in a wide variety of primary (e.g., cobaltite, carrolite, and erythrite) and secondary (e.g., erythrite, heterogenite) minerals. When exposed to low pH conditions, a number of such minerals are known to undergo dissolution, typically forming Co2+(aq). At circumneutral pH, such aqueous Co can then become immobilised by co-precipitation and/or sorption onto Fe and Mn(oxyhydr)oxides. This paper brings together contemporary knowledge on such Co cycling across different mining environments. Further research is required to gain a truly robust understanding of the Co-system in mining-affected environments. Key knowledge gaps include the mechanics and kinetics of secondary Co-bearing mineral environmental transformation, the extent at which such environmental cycling is facilitated by microbial activity, the nature of Co speciation across different Eh-pH conditions, and the environmental and human toxicity of Co.