MycoMine’s method speeds up the natural processes

In collaboration with the Swedish Fortifications Agency we initiated our pilot for hydrocarbon degradation during autumn and winter 2022-2023 at Ytterby mine.

Case Study: MycoMine’s MycoCube Revolutionises Hydrocarbon Remediation at Ytterby Mine

Discovering a Breakthrough Solution

In a recent 6-month pilot project taking place at Ytterby Mine, Stockholm, MycoMine’s innovative MycoCube exceeded expectations by degrading almost 100% of the hydrocarbons present in the polluted water. This success story showcases how MycoMine’s fungal bioremediation technology has the power to transform polluted sites such as Ytterby mineshaft, restoring the ecological balance of these areas.

A History of Ytterby Mine

Ytterby Mine was previously used for the storage of jet fuel from 1953 for over two decades before it was then used to store diesel. The Ytterby site is now managed by the Swedish Fortifications Agency (Fortifikationsverket) and Ytterby Gruva who have been cleaning the mine since the mid-1990s. The vision is to revive the mine as a hub of education and national cultural significance, commemorating the mine as an important site in the history of chemistry. Every year, Nobel laureates visit the area - Ytterby Mine being the site where the most elements were discovered in a single place.

Ytterby mine cavern (2023) is currently polluted with leftover oils from its use as a fuel storage area.

A Novel Approach to an Ongoing Problem

Despite previous cleaning efforts, large quantities of fuel residues, including hydrocarbons and oils, remained within the mine cavern. During winter 2022/2023 MycoMine installed a custom designed treatment plant inside the mine to pilot an alternative clean-up technique. Operations began in February 2023.

Bioremediation is a relatively new technique of removing pollution from the environment. Other methods use synthetic chemicals or entail removing pollutants and then burning them, releasing large amounts of secondary pollution. Bioremediation looks at ways that are less environmentally damaging to sites and use natural processes to restore the ecology of an area, limiting environmental disruption and carbon emissions. However, as bioremediation is an emerging market, there are still issues with mainstream bio-approaches due to lack of research and monitoring. Currently, bioremediation measures for hydrocarbons involve spraying a mixture of organisms and fertilisers onto a contaminated site, or adding some form of absorbent material which is then later disposed of or burnt. While this is better than traditional synthetic cleaning solutions, there is still secondary pollution generated. Freely spraying fertilisers and organisms disrupts surrounding ecology by feeding algae in neighbouring water which then results in algal bloom. Algal blooms disturb the balance of water life and can destroy life in some aquatic areas. Secondly, without a closed system, it is almost impossible to monitor whether the solution is working, the rate of degradation, and adjusting a solution accordingly is unworkable.

This is why we designed the MycoCube.

The MycoCube – Eco-Friendly Remediation On-Site

Our treatment plant overcomes problems of ecological disruption and secondary pollution. At MycoMine we created a closed-loop system where contaminated water passes through our treatment plant which has been inoculated with native hydrocarbon-degrading fungi. The fungi stay within the system and feed solely on what is in the water we pump in from the site – in this case this is the hydrocarbons and oils from the cavern water. We end up with two products, the water output (almost completely free of hydrocarbons), and biomass which remains within the MycoCube. This biomass can then be removed as it accumulates and used as compost, or in the creation of sustainable building materials and design features. The MycoCube was custom-made to operate on site with the specific challenges of Ytterby Mine. With limited space and a pipe network, we built the MycoCube to receive water pumped from the cavern to an area nearer the entrance of the mineshaft to make operations and maintenance easier. We designed our operation in line with our clients’ needs and preferences, so we did not interfere with other mine uses or future planning.

Graph showing % degradation of hydrocarbons in the contaminated mine water (Y-axis) over time (X-axis, days).

The Testing Process

Over the course of six months, separate batches of fuel-contaminated water were pumped from the main cavern to the MycoCube system. By using a batch system in our pilot instead of continuous flow, we were able to accurately monitor degradation rates of the target pollutants. We tracked the extent to which hydrocarbon and oil pollutants were removed from each of the five 250-500 litre batches over a period of 4-6 weeks. This enabled us to make any necessary adjustments and monitor how our lab trial results would compare to real pilot. We took samples from each batch before they were treated and compared these to samples taken after treatment of each batch. This allowed comparison of hydrocarbon presence so we could calculate the rates of degradation which had occurred – aka how much of the overall pollutant had been eaten by the fungi.

Exceeding Expectations

The outcomes of this pilot exceeded our expectations. Typically, results from feasibility testing in the laboratory will surpass those obtained in real-world conditions. This is because the conditions inside the mineshaft are very different to those in the lab, where many variables are out of our control. However, all our samples taken from the pilot site exceeded degradation expectations despite the varying conditions in the mine during the 6-month pilot period. The MycoCube system achieved nearly 100% degradation of the hydrocarbons present in each cycle, making the output at, or close to, the standards for drinking water for hydrocarbon presence. This achievement underscores MycoCube’s effectiveness in remediating hydrocarbon contamination in water sources, paving the way for a cleaner and more sustainable future for Ytterby Mine and similar sites worldwide. MycoMine will continue to remediate Ytterby Mine and restore the site to its previous ecological balance so it can be opened as a centre to the public.

MycoCube in Ytterby mine.