Ecological engineering of iron ore tailings into useable soils for sustainable rehabilitation

Songlin Wu, Yunjia Liu, Gordon Southam, Tuan A.H. Nguyen, Kurt O. Konhauser, Fang You, Jeremy J. Bougoure, David Paterson, Ting Shan Chan, Ying Rui Lu, Shu Chih Haw, Qing Yi, Zhen Li, Lachlan M. Robertson, Merinda Hall, Narottam Saha, Yong Sik Ok, Longbin Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Ecological engineering of soil formation in tailings is an emerging technology toward sustainable rehabilitation of iron (Fe) ore tailings landscapes worldwide, which requires the formation of well-organized and stable soil aggregates in finely textured tailings. Here, we demonstrate an approach using microbial and rhizosphere processes to progressively drive aggregate formation and development in Fe ore tailings. The aggregates were initially formed through the agglomeration of mineral particles by organic cements derived from microbial decomposition of exogenous organic matter. The aggregate stability was consolidated by colloidal nanosized Fe(III)-Si minerals formed during Fe-bearing primary mineral weathering driven by rhizosphere biogeochemical processes of pioneer plants. From these findings, we proposed a conceptual model for progressive aggregate structure development in the tailings with Fe(III)-Si rich cements as core nuclei. This renewable resource dependent eco-engineering approach opens a sustainable pathway to achieve resilient tailings rehabilitation without resorting to excavating natural soil resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107102
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2023

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