Science and technology of ecological engineering of ferrous and base metal mine tailings (e.g., magnetite tailings, bauxite residues (or red mud), Cu/Pb-Zn tailings) into functional technosols and hardpan-based soil systems for sustainable tailings rehabilitation: geo-microbial ecology, mineral bioweathering, geo-rhizosphere biology, technosol-plant relations in mined environments.

Tailings are the primary wastes from processing hard rock ores of economic metals (e.g., Au, Cu, Mn, Pb, Zn, U) and industrial mineral deposits (e.g., coal, phosphate, and bauxite), which are largely composed of often ultra-fine dust-like gangue containing waste minerals (e.g., silicates, carbonates, sulphides). Professor Huang's research aims to discover new knowledge of microbial driven bioweathering of tailings minerals and associated biogeochemical processes and develop new technology and methodology for rehabilitating metal mine tailings.

The emerging technology is significantly different from conventional rehabilitation technology (such as soil remediation, phytoremediation and soil-capping), which essentially treat the tailings as engineered parent materials (rather than “soil” per se) and harness in situ microbial power purposely primed and enhanced to accelerate mineral bioweathering and secondary mineral formation, which underpin the development of suitable physicochemical properties and biological capacity in expected technosols and/or hardpans. In particular, research efforts are underway to understand geo-microbial mechanisms and processes in bioweathering primary minerals in various metal mine tailings (e.g., bauxite residues/red mud, Cu/Pb-Zn tailings), by means of Omics-approach (metagenomics/proteomics), advanced microscopic and microspectral tools (e.g., SEM-EDS, Confocal EM, Synchrotron-based XFM/XAS). The emerging technology and methodology are expected to deliver much needed knowledge and know-how to speed up metal mine tailings rehabilitation which has emerged as global economic and environmental liabilities. Professor Huang's research theme is of a multi-disciplinary nature, building on sciences of geomicrobiology, mineralogy, pedogenesis, soil microbial ecology, rhizosphere biology, and ecological dynamics of soil-plant systems.

Professor Huang is a Professorial Research Fellow and the Leader of the Ecological Engineering in Mining Group within The University of Queensland's Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation (CMLR), which is part of the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI). Professor Huang holds a Bachelor Degree in Agronomy (soil science & Plant Physiology double major), a PhD in Plant Environmental Physiology, and has more than 25 years experience in soil-plant relations and tailings rehabilitation.  He is a member of the research committee of Key laboratory of mined land rehabilitation, Ministry of Land and Resources, China.


Metal mine tailings (such as magnetite-Fe ore tailings, bauxite residues (red mud), and Cu-Pb-Zn tailings) are economically and environmentally the most challenging domains on metal mines and the innovation is expected to generate industry-wide impacts on sustainable tailings rehabilitation. Professor Huang's research closely engages mining and mineral processing industries in Australia and overseas, and firmly targets their needs for technological innovation to rehabilitate ferrous and base metal mine tailings.  

His research partners and sponsors include Glencore Ltd (formerly Xstrata Cu Australia) at Mt Isa Mines and Earnest Henry Mine, Karara Mining Ltd, Dexing Copper Mine (JiangXi Copper, China), MMG Ltd, and South32 Ltd. In late 2016, Professor Huang was invited by Rio Tinto as the UQ-expert in tailings rehabilitation at the Gove Refinery Options Study - Innovation Workshop, discussing and developing research strategies for rehabilitating red mud ponds at Gove refinery. Most recently, he has been leading a large ARC-Linkage project to investigate soil formation in magnetite tailings to offset large proportions of soil volumes required to cover the tailings for native plant rehabilitation, which is the first research project on tailings rehabilitation at industry scale in Australia. 


Professor Huang's collaboration networks include academic colleagues from other schools and faculties within UQ (e.g., Schools of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Agricultural and Food Sciences, Civil Engineering, and Chemical Engineering), other Australian Universities (e.g., Murdoch University, University of Western Australia, Melbourne University and Curtin University), Queensland State Government (Department of Science and Innovation), and overseas universities and research institutes in China, Germany and the USA (e.g., Chinese Academy of Sciences, China Agricultural University, China University of Geosciences, Sun Yat-sen University, University of Wurzburg, University of Bonn, University of Oklahoma).


Example research projects as lead/co-chief investigator (CI)

  1. Eco-engineering soil from mine tailings for native plant rehabilitation, ARC Linkage (Australian Research Council, Kara Mining Ltd, Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority, 2016 - 2019) (lead CI)
  2. Developing Options and Strategies for Red Mud Bioremediation (Rare Metals Jamaica Limited, 2015 – 2016) (lead CI) 
  3. An Examination of Tailings Revegetation Options and Strategies at Mt Isa Phase II: Evaluation of Amendment Options for Reconstructing a Root Zone in Base Metal Mine Tailings for Supporting Open-shrubland Ecosystems - Root Zone Reconstruction Requirements and Field Model. (Xstrata copper (Mount Isa Mines, 2012-2015) (Lead CI)
  4. Research on Key Technology Cooperation for Comprehensive Improvement to Acidic Pollution in Metallic Mine Dump. (Ministry of Science and Technology, China Central Government, DeXing Copper Mine, 2012-2014) (Lead CI)
  5. Transitional Research Plan: Evaluation of Tailings Amendment Options on Native Grass Growth, Mineral Nutrition and Arsenic Accumulation in Plants Xstrata Copper (Ernest Henry Mine) (2012-2013) (Lead CI)
  6. Engineering Biochars for Restoring and Sustaining Soil-Plant Systems – from Mined Land to Crop fields UWA – UQ Bilateral Research Collaboration Award (2011-2012) (Lead CI)
  7. Tailoring Nano crystal Suspensions for Extended Ion Supply to Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Leaf Surfaces. ARC Linkage (Australian Research Council, Agrichem Pty Ltd) (2009-2012) (Co-CI)
  8. Developing a Strategy for Revegetating Saline Red Mud at the Gove Alumina Refinery Rio Tinto Alcan Gove  (2012) (Co-CI)
  9. Developing a closure strategy for current tailings storage facilities at Northparkes Mines (2012) (Co-CI)
  10. An examination of options and strategies for tailings revegetation at Mt Isa & Ernest Henry Mines. (Xstrata Copper, 2008-2011) (Lead CI).


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