Doe Run Plants Biofuel Crop as Test Program to Restore Mine Tailings Sites

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The Doe Run Company is participating in a pilot project with MFA Oil Biomass LLC and Missouri University of Science and Technology to plant Miscanthus grass to help transform mine tailings sites into potential biofuel crop sites.

The Doe Run Company is participating in a pilot project with MFA Oil Biomass LLC and Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) to help transform mine tailings sites into potential biofuel crop sites. In April, Doe Run planted a test plot of 11 acres of Miscanthus grass at the company’s current Viburnum, Mo., Mine 28 tailings site. If the test plot grows successfully, Doe Run intends to plant additional acres next year at other closed tailings sites.

“Doe Run saw this test program as an opportunity to potentially bring new purpose and productivity to former mine sites,” said Chris Neaville, asset development director at Doe Run. “This restoration approach may create new economic and environmental benefits, and supports our commitment to operating sustainably.”

Miscanthus is proven to be one of few plants that can thrive in challenging soil conditions, such as tailings, which are the ground-up rock byproducts created when separating metal from ore during mining and milling. Miscanthus crops have been in development for 30 years as commercially-harvested fuel crops and produce more biomass per acre than any other energy crop, yielding up to 15 feet of growth per year as a mature plant. Because it is not needed as a food source, Miscanthus offers an alternative to other biofuel crops, such as corn and soybeans. Miscanthus roots also penetrate deep into the soil and deposit nutrients, which restores soil over a 20- to 30-year span.

Working alongside Doe Run, Missouri S&T is examining Miscanthus’ ability to restore nutrients to the soil at Mine 28. Missouri S&T is conducting further research to find the best methods to optimize the growth of Miscanthus in tailings sites, to improve soil quality and to increase the soil’s capacity to grow biofuel crops.

“While we’ve studied other processed biofuels, like corn ethanol and biodiesel, and biomass, such as poplar and willow trees, this Miscanthus study is the first of its kind at Missouri S&T,” said Joel Burken, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T. “We know there is exceptional potential in this crop, so our goal is to help Doe Run realize that potential on Missouri’s historic mine sites. Growing Miscanthus crops in the region could help develop industries to utilize the biomass fuel, which is efficient in terms of nutrient and water inputs.”

MFA Oil Biomass LLC (a division of MFA Oil Company) is looking to Miscanthus to eventually utilize land at mine tailings sites across Missouri. Since March, MFA Oil Biomass LLC has planted more than 12,000 acres of Miscanthus in Missouri and Arkansas. MFA Oil Biomass LLC is working to secure federal grants to fund the expansion of Miscanthus planting to other locations, possibly including other Doe Run sites, during the next planting season.

“The energy market is changing and it forces us all to find ways to decrease our dependency on foreign oil and turn to homegrown energy sources,” said Jared Wilmes, project coordinator at MFA Oil Biomass LLC. “Manufacturing fuels locally is a win-win situation: it creates jobs and, in this case, puts these otherwise un-utilized properties to productive use while simultaneously improving the composition of the soil. It takes organizations like Doe Run, who are deeply invested in their communities, to carry out this type of project successfully. We are excited to develop a long-lasting partnership with Doe Run in what we hope will be a series of renewable energy projects.”

Creating new opportunities for historic mine sites, is just one of Doe Run’s many initiatives to improve sustainability in all its operations. Planting Miscanthus on mine tailings improves soil nutrients and could lead to regular crop production as an alternative energy source for Doe Run and other area businesses. Currently, Doe Run operates 50 percent of its underground mining equipment using biodiesel. This percentage could potentially increase if the test pilot is successful and the program expands.

About The Doe Run Company
Based in St. Louis, The Doe Run Company is a privately held natural resources company and the largest integrated lead producer in the Western Hemisphere. Dedicated to environmentally responsible mineral and metal production, Doe Run operates one of the world’s largest, single-site lead recycling facilities located in Boss, Mo. The Doe Run Company and its subsidiary deliver products and services necessary to provide power, protection and convenience. Doe Run has operations in Missouri, Washington and Arizona. For more information, visit sustainability.doerun.com.

About MFA Oil Biomass LLC:
MFA Oil Biomass LLC, formed in 2011, is a based in Columbia, Mo. MFA Oil Company teamed up with Altoterra Energy LLC to form a fully integrated biomass company that is involved in the research, farmer relationships, and planting of the biomass crop all the way to the marketing and development of products manufactured from the biomass. MFA Oil Biomass LLC has three project areas in central Missouri, southwest Missouri and northeast Arkansas.

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Maggie Brandt
Standing Partnership
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