Research Engineer, biominerologist
Residues, Resource and Reclamation Center, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore
20/05/2011 – present
The mining of minerals from desalination brines is considered to be a very attractive source for certain raw materials. It is usually recommended to recover minerals from desalinated brines to reduce fresh-water production costs and to minimize wastewater disposal. The objective of this proposal is to conduct a study to assess whether it is technologically feasible and economically beneficial to use a novel microbally induced technology to precipitate mineralized Mg out of the resultant brine from the SWRO processes.
I am an Irish research engineer who has long been fascinated by the process of biomineralization–with particular attention on the mechanisms involved for mineral precipitation, making your work on biodegradable bone scaffolds of great interest–believing that the insights gained, particularly through the study of geomicrobiology may allow new strategies to be developed for the production of biocompatible bone implants or may even suggest future radical manufacturing technologies for the production of advanced composites for the automotive and aeronautical industries. Biological structures are synthesized under mild energetic conditions using natural compounds, sparking wide interest in understanding and duplicating such “clean” production processes. As part of my M.Sc., at Imperial College, London, I conducted research at the Centre for Organized Matter Chemistry, Bristol (a group headed by Professor Steven Mann) and also the Geo-Engineering section at the Technical University Delft (TUD), both groups are world leaders in biologically induced mineral precipitation. Research at TUD looked at the Biogrout (Van Paassen, 2009) process, as an analogue for the development of a novel production methodology, where biological agents can be employed as a catalyst for casting useful mineral objects. I received an M.Sc., with merit from Imperial College and exhibited this work at The Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin in 2011. Following the work above I was offered a research position at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology in collaboration with Nanyang Technical University, Singapore. For this position a literature review was proposed and conducted to assess the ability of microorganisms to mine selected minerals out of seawater desalination brine. This study was based on compelling and burgeoning evidence from the field of geomicrobiology, which shows the ubiquitous role microorganisms play in the cycling of minerals on the planet. As lead researcher I am currently conducting experiments and building kinetic models to better understand and control the magnesium content of microbally induced carbonate precipitation. Based on this and the work conducted as part of my M.Sc., I have been invited to make a talk on: Radical production technologies inspired by Nature, at TED Full Spectrum, a conference being held in California of February 2012. It is my aim to continue to research in the field of biomineralization, while exploring the mechanisms responsible for mild energetic mineral (including metal) precipitation for the production of mineral composites.
A funny story about me:
Grub first, then ethics. – Bertolt Brecht. In 2008 I spent a four months working in two remote villages, Ecuador. The villages were either: a pleasant one and a half hour morning walk, a 30 minute horse back ride, or a twenty minute – three times daily – bus journey, away from each other. One day while working I managed to miss the last bus back, I had a quick think and decided to make the journey on foot. The evening light was already beginning to fade when I departed, 30 minutes later the road and I were surrounded by thick black jungle, the only light coming from a seam of night sky formed in the tree canopy by the road below. A few days earlier I had heard how there were still leopards and jaguars in the region and so had armed myself, just in case, with the hammer I was using earlier in the day. I began to settle into the journey passing time through the recognition of silhouetted landmarks, when I heard something move a few meters in front of me. I immediately leapt to the side of the road into a stance of readiness, calling “hola, hola ¿cómo estás?” Heart pounding and my ears awash with sounds of the jungle, I waited. There it was again, but further away. I edged forward, “hola”, again movement but this time the sound was more distinguished and in retreat. I began to walk and as I did I could hear the sound of equine hooves moving off down the road in front of me. My startled friend would accompany me for the next kilometre with an increasingly distance trot.