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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Geochemical assessment of the bioavailability of platinum group metals for phytomining Shi, Peipei


Phytomining is suggested as a novel technology to obtain platinum group metals (PGMs) nanoparticles from plants grown on the mineralized soil, rock, or on mine wastes. The primary determinant of metal uptake by a plant is the bioavailability of the metal in the soil-plant system. In this thesis project, the bioavailability of PGMs of several PGM-rich materials is assessed with respect to phytomining. Notably, feed, concentrate and tailings from North American Palladium (NAP) in Canada, and two gossan samples from Broken Hill (BH) mineral complex in Australia are assessed in the context of phytomining. Geochemical techniques are used to obtain the mineralogy, the total concentration of PGMs, and concentrations of PGMs extracted by chemicals. These methods assess the bioavailability of PGMs in the samples and enable the estimation regarding the available concentrations of Pd, Pt, Au and Cu to plants. Soil-associated factors such as pH, salinity (EC), and cation exchange capacity (CEC) have been shown to influence indirectly the bioavailability of PGMs. Thus, soil-associated factors were analyzed. Additionally, a selection model for the substrate of phytomining is proposed. The criteria for choosing substrate for the phytomining of Pd include available Pd concentration, pH, EC, CEC and available Cu concentration. This thesis concludes that the PGM species that can be extracted by ammonium acetate are the best indicators of their natural availability to plants. Those PGMs that can be extracted by fulvic acid and citrate-dithionite are good indicators as they can be soluble in soils. According to the selection model, the available Pd concentration of BH gossan 1 is higher than 2 mg/kg. Its low EC, high CEC, and proper pH make it a suitable substrate for plant growth. It is the best “one” of the five samples for phytomining of Pd. One thing to note is that high Cu-tolerant plant species should be chosen to grow on BH gossan 1 due to its high Cu concentration available to plants.

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