Friday, June 12, 2015

New plant species an added attraction at Mt Kinabalu

A new plant species called nickel hyperaccumulator has been discovered at Kinabalu Park that could well be another attraction for visitors to the majestic Mt Kinabalu, which of late has attracted global attention after an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale rocked the mountain and claimed 18 lives.

Sabah Park Field assistant researcher Sukaibin Sumail told The Borneo Post at Kinabalu Park in Kundasang recently that they had found at least 24 species of such plant in Sabah, especially at the park.

“Nickel hyperaccumulator plant is unique as it contains nickel. The discovery of the plant will be very useful as it can be used to prevent environmental imbalance as well as for commercial purposes,” he said.

He said a book had been published on the plant species through the research works of Dr Anthony van der Ent of Queensland University of Australia and a local researcher Rimi Repin, who is also the assistant park director.

According to their findings, future generations of miners could harvest metals from this plant species, capitalising on the ability of some plants to isolate and accumulate metals in their shoots.

Van der Ent said nickel hyperaccumulator plant that could extract metals such as nickel or cobalt from the soil could be harvested for some significant returns.

“A mature nickel hyperaccumulator tree can contain up to five kg of nickel when grown in the right conditions,” van der Ent said in his book.

He said a process known as phytomining or agromining, would involve plantations growing on mine waste or ground with ore deposits not suitable for traditional mining.

“Phytomining trials have yielded up to 200kg of nickel per hectare a year, establishing a potential opportunity and income stream for future metal farmers in developing countries, especially with nickel now worth around RM70,300 ($19,000) a tonne.”

Van der Ent said the technology had been scientifically proven over the past 20 years, but the mining industry had not adopted it at a significant scale.

“This may be the result of a lack of minerals industry awareness of the technology’s potential or of the scientific advances that have been made in metal recovery from plants.

“Industry needs to be encouraged to adopt new technologies that have the potential to improve mine site rehabilitation outcomes and opportunities, especially in developing countries in the tropics,” he said.

Van der Ent said harvesting and incinerating plant biomass could generate a commercial high-grade bio-ore containing 10 to 25 per cent nickel.