Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

Without life, Planet Earth would look, smell, sound and work in live. For life the human eye can easily see (trees, lions, termites, corals, seaweed) the impact of life is pretty obvious, although it is still often more profound than you might think. For micro-organisms (bacteria, algae, archaea, fungi), this impact sometimes gets overlooked. Making this deficit of recognition much worse is the sheer age of the time when the pre-microbe Earth was first changed to the insistent push of microbial activity. The oldest land vertebrates (~385 million years ago), land plants (~472 million years ago), land arthropods (~490 million years ago), coral (~465 million years ago) and fern-like marine organism (~565 million years ago) are pretty recent innovations compared to the oldest microbes (at least 3,500 million years). Strangely, this makes identifying the range of impacts on Planet Earth quite difficult to establish: we have almost no fossil record of the Earth without them.

This is why a group of us put the 2017 Lyell meeting together. We wanted to lift the lid on the range, significance and complexity of the way micro-organisms impact of planet earth today, and explore the significance of this impact in the past. Only through bringing these impacts to light and understanding them can we understand, and even harness, these communities for the benefit of society. This is potentially as profound a journey as the first human efforts to understand the dog, the horse, cereal plants or apple orchards. If we want microbes to help in stabilising sediment in reservoirs or – very close to the heart of the R3AW project – removing the pollutants we persistently put into their environment, we need to understand how they live their lives.


The range of impacts is simply breath-taking. Microbes can accumulate metals, make minerals form, stop sediment from being eroded and help sediment get deposited. They can even do this in dryland environment, where you would think conditions are pretty unfavourable to these communities. And they have been doing it for a long, long time.

Even for those of us who already know beyond question that we live, and have always lived, in the Age of the Microbe, Lyell ’17 expanded our horizons. Those who started the day perhaps more innocent of this emerging field of science will never quite look at the world the same way again. All of us came away more convinced than ever that the absence of microbes from the nature documentaries on our television has blinded the world to their huge importance. It is an uncharacteristic oversight that the Planet Earth team have failed to give Sir David Attenborough the opportunity to introduce us to half of the biomass our world possesses.


Where this exploration will take us, none of us yet know. However, it is already clear that discovery of how microbes on Earth change how the planet operates is every bit as profound as the discovery of microbes beyond the Earth itself. We have made a start on this journey, but we have a very long way to go.

 Written by Dr Mike Rogerson (R3AW) University of Hull.



MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste. The Final meeting?

The third MAPeRR meeting and a lot has been happening since we last met! MAPeRR put together a poster of project findings for the Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) conference which was brilliantly organised by Dr Anne P.M. Velenturf in December.  We had a lot of positive comments from other conference attendees and it was great to catch up with one another and discuss our research strategy!


Stopping for Lunch. The MAPeRR Team, From right to left; Eleni Iacovidou, Helen Baxter, John Chachladakis, Kok Siew Ng and Johnathan Bush.

At the last meeting we had decided to split off into two research groups, one focused on completing the qualitative analysis of our case study, using technology being developed by Stopford Energy and Environment, and the other research team completing a life cycle analysis which is the more quantitative analysis. The purpose of this meeting was to integrate these two sets of results and decide upon our strategy for disseminating our findings.

The morning was once again full of lively discussion and debate, as we looked at the findings of each team and decided upon who should write what and how to most effectively communicate our findings. These face to face meetings are a brilliant opportunity for us all to discuss the project and listen to one another’s perspective on what we have found.  It is an excellent way to approach research and the collaborative nature of the project means that we get a really interesting discussion going about, research findings, creating new ideas and ways of approaching the project.  After much intensive brain work we once again retreated for some much needed nourishment at “The Library” to recharge our batteries.

When we returned replenished and recharged we put together a timetable for what we need to achieve in the next couple of months. After that we went our separate ways knowing that we have got some hard work to put in, but feeling that the MAPeRR project has achieved some really interesting findings.  Watch this space to find out we will be up to next!

MAPeRR partners: The Universities of Hull (R3AW), Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey and Stopford Energy & Environment.

Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.

Lyell Meeting 2017

Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

7 March 2017, The Geological Society, Burlington House

Sedimentology and geomorphology have traditionally been seen as fields in which physical, and sometimes chemical, processes dominate completely. Even in settings where biological processes have long been recognised, for example in marine carbonates, focus has been almost entirely on metazoans. This is curious, because microbial communities since the Pre-Cambrian, have suffused all sedimentary environments on Earth, and at least half global biomass is prokaryotic. Are all these microbes simply bystanders? Recent research has hinted that they are key agents in controlling an impressive range of processes and products in sedimentology, bringing the fields of microbe palaeontology and bio-sedimentology into intimate alignment. The implications are fundamental, and pose the question“are large-scale sedimentological features actually microbial trace fossils?”.

This meeting will put the majority of life on earth back into its proper place within the sedimentary geosciences. It will shed new light on the important roles that microbial life plays in controlling how sediments erode, transport, precipitate, deposit and cement. We will explore whether microbial processes can leave signatures in sedimentary deposits that prove life was there, despite the fact that the majority of global biomass has nearly zero preservation potential. Ultimately, we will lift the lid on the exciting field of sedimentary geobiology as we collectively work towards a new paradigm of microbial sedimentology.

Call for Abstracts:

There is a call for abstracts and oral and poster contributions are invited. Abstracts should be sent in a Word document to by 12 January 2017. The
abstract should be approximately 500 words and include a title and acknowledgement of authors and their affiliations where possible.


Daniel Parsons (University of Hull)

Mike Rogerson (University of Hull)

Concha Arenas Abad (University of Zaragoza, Spain)

Gernot Arp (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Jaco Baas (University of Bangor, UK)

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Christophe Dupraz (University of Stockholm, Sweden) – Biofilms and Sediment: a ‘Geobiological Tango’

Further information: For further information about the conference please contact: Naomi Newbold, Conference Office, The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG T: 0207 434 9944 E:

Follow this event on Twitter: @geolsoc #lyell17



Pilot plant at Scunthorpe

The field trial at the Scunthorpe British Steel plant started this month. We are currently monitoring the existing wetland for passive treatment of the steel slag leachate. We are aiming to understand better what happens to vanadium (plant uptake / partitioning) and also to determine the treatment buffering rates. We hope to be able to publish some exciting results soon!

Removal and recovery of vanadium from steel slag leachates with exchange resins

51zhn1r5tplOur team has another publication  entitled: Removal and recovery of vanadium from alkaline steel slag leachates with anion exchange resins by Helena I. Gomes, Ashley Jones, Mike Rogerson, Gillian M. Greenway, Diego Fernandez-Lisbona, Ian T. Burke, and William M. Mayes,  now published on the Journal of Environmental Management.

This work tested the efficiency of anion exchange resins for vanadium removal and recovery from steel slag leachates at pH 11.5.  The results show, for the first time, that the resins can be used successfully to both remove and recover vanadium from steel slag leachate.

As an environmental contaminant, removal of vanadium from leachates may be an obligation for long-term management requirements of steel slag landfills. Vanadium removal coupled with the recovery can potentially be used to offset long-term legacy treatment costs.


The maximum adsorption capacity  was 27 mg of vanadium per gram of resin. In the column tests, the concentration in the effluent was only 14% of the initial concentration after passing 90 L of steel slag leachate. We could recover 57–72% of vanadium from the resin. Trials on the reuse of the anion exchange resin showed that it could be reused 20 times without loss of efficacy, and on average 69% of vanadium was recovered during regeneration.

PhD opportunity on long-term management of bauxite residues leachates

Our team has now available a Ph.D. opportunity at the University of Leeds on “Long-term management of leachates produced from highly alkaline bauxite residues” with Dr Ian Burke (SEE), Prof Doug Stewart (Civil Eng), Dr Will Mayes (Hull) and Amiel Boullemant (Rio Tinto Legacy Management).

Project Objectives

  1. Investigate the fate and mobility of soluble metals (Al, As, Mo. V) in relevant leachate management systems (e.g. neutralisation, re-circulation) using a combination of on-site measurement and laboratory experimentation (with synchrotron and electron microscopy based characterisation of metal(loid) speciation in the solid phases produced).
  2. Determine the effectiveness of residue treatments (e.g. in situ neutralisation, carbonation reactions) for controlling trace metal(loid) leaching and their long-term role in promoting residue stability and rehabilitation/ revegetation prospects.
  3. Investigate the fate of released oxyanions (chiefly V) in natural environments receiving treated leachates in order to understand the role of interactions with soil minerals and organic matter in controlling metal(loid) mobility and risk.

Project partner(s): Rio Tinto Legacy Management

Contact email:

You can find detailed information here.


MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste

The second MAPeRR meeting was held at the University of Leeds this Monday and the team were together for the first time since our initial inaugural meeting early in the summer. The first challenge of the day was to find the meeting room the second to work out how to use the coffee machine! Both objectives were achieved.20161010_151440

The first half of the meeting was very intense, each member of the team reporting on what they had achieved over the summer. We each  had produced a report and took the other members of the team through our findings. Questions were asked and we discussed the range of issues that were highlighted in each report. We animatedly talked about the ways in which these key issues related to the MAPeRR case study and how these same problems were relevant for the individual projects which form the NERC programme, Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW). An initial assessment of what the phases of the project required was decided upon and then mentally exhausted we adjourned for a much-needed lunch. Due to the excellence of the food last time we revisited the same restaurant and were equally impressed. We even managed to sit at the same table! We left satisfied and smelling of charcoal and barbecued food.

Back to work, where we planned in more detail the next phases of the project and the work that each of us will be responsible for. The logistics of arranging when we could all get together again and how the work would be achieved were all thrashed out. We have split into teams each team bringing a range of skills from their own area of specialisation to the MAPeRR project. The next few months are definitely going to be interesting and intense! The mood of the meeting was very optimistic and we are all excited about what MAPeRR can achieve in the time we have left.

As dusk drew in goodbyes were said and we are looking forward to meeting up again at the RRfW annual conference in early December!

MAPeRR partners: The Universities of Hull (R3AW), Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey and Stopford Energy & Environment.

Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.

R3AW is now a CL:AIRE Research Project

We are pleased to announce that R3AW has been approved by the CL:AIRE Technology and Research Group as CL:AIRE Research Project RP26.

CL:AIRE (Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments), the public-private partnership which disseminates best practice to the UK contaminated land sector was already a project partner. Now, with this approval, the project will have a wider broadcast among CL:AIRE members.

The distribution of R3AW results through CL:AIRE will promote interest from developers and consultants in adopting new approaches to managing legacy wastes, particularly those engaged in brownfield developments. According to CL:AIRE, their bulletins, project reports, eAlerts, conferences and workshops, and their website portal reach over 2,000 contacts in the UK and abroad.





Come join us in Boston, at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Conference

Although the development of a circular economy has the potential to alter existing economic trajectories in ways that are more favourable to the environment, the concept has been increasingly subject to critical evaluation. Some commentators see the circular economy as yet another manifestation of ecological modernisation, whereby technological change and appropriate environmental management techniques are deemed sufficient to address global environmental concerns. Thus “little has been said about the socio-political implications and possibilities for shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices” (Hobson, 2016: 89), nor about the realities of the “messy world” of the circular economy beyond the ‘perfect circles’ of materials and waste envisaged by policy makers (Gregson et al., 2015). As with its predecessor concepts of industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis, the reality of implementation may be a long way from the neat conceptualisations envisaged in the world of policy documents and websites. Moreover, individual product and material cycles cannot be understood in isolation, but need to be viewed as part of a wider system influenced by both the individual elements at work and the context in which they operate. Life cycle thinking and systems thinking can provide a useful entry point into understanding these contexts in order to comprehend the way in which individual elements can impact upon evolution and promotion of a circular economy. The aim of this session is to bring together researchers approaching the concept of a circular economy from a wide range of perspectives in order to further understanding of the barriers to and implications of implementation. We invite a wide range of contributions from those concerned with, and researching into, the circular economy, the green economy, systems analysis, life cycle analysis, degrowth and alternative economy scenarios. We would welcome contributions addressing related issues including, but not limited to, following questions:

  • What are the barriers to developing a circular economy beyond the dominant focus on the technological aspects of resource and material flow management? In particular, what are the institutional and regulatory barriers to change?
  • What are the alternatives to a circular economy policy that focuses on improving technical efficiency without questioning current business and economic growth models?  Are there alternative circular economy practices that align with other conceptualisations of production and growth, such as degrowth?
  • What shifts in routines and practices are required to develop a circular economy and how can these be conceptualised? For example, how do various business and policy actors change their routines? Can we see the development of ‘communities of practice’ around circular economy initiatives?
  • What are the broader socio-political implications of a circular economy agenda? Which forms of governance can encourage or facilitate the circular economy? What is the role of individuals and regulatory structures?
  • The circular economy envisages the world as a set of interwoven systems, but how does a systems approach alter our perspective view of the economy and how do changes in one part of the system impact upon other areas?
  • How can methodologies such as life cycle sustainability assessment be used most effectively to communicate the benefits and impacts of the circular economy to all sectors of society including decision and policy makers?

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words for consideration for inclusion in the session by October 7th via email to Helen Baxter (, David Gibbs ( or Pauline Deutz ( Participants will be notified by October 17th if their paper has been accepted and will then need to register for the conference and provide their PIN to the organisers by October 24th in order to be included in the panel.

Details about the AAG 2017 Conference and how to register/submit an abstract are available here.


Written by Prof. David Gibbs, Dr Pauline Deutz and Dr Helen Baxter, University of Hull.

New open access paper on V recovery

Out team just published a new paper on vanadium recovery from red mud leachates using ion exchange resins. The paper is available on open access here.


Bauxite residue or red mud is an important by-product of the alumina industry, and current management practices do not allow their full valorisation, especially with regard to the recovery of critical metals, like vanadium.

This paper focus on vanadium removal and recovery from the leachates, with emphasis on the environmental remediation of bauxite residue disposal areas or closed legacy sites where vanadium is both a contaminant and a metal with economic interest present in the effluent.

As an environmental pollutant, removal of vanadium from leachates may be an obligation of bauxite residue disposal areas (BRDA) long-term management requirements. Vanadium removal from the leachate can be coupled with the recovery, and potentially can be used to offset long-term legacy treatment costs in legacy sites.

This study has shown that anion exchange resins can be used for metal removal and recovery from bauxite residue leachates in a highly alkaline pH range (up to 13).

The results showed that using simulated undiluted bauxite residue leachate as feed solution limited the resin efficacy, due to the presence of competing ions. However, the resins are very effective at V removal for simulated post-closure bauxite residue disposal areas (BRDA) effluent.

In the column experiments, V was readily eluted from the resins in concentrations similar to some industrial process liquors, which holds promise for recovery and recycling of V into downstream industrial processes.

Further research is required to scale-up laboratory findings. This should include assessment pretreatments and optimisation of operating parameters, such as flow rate and bed height. This will help facilitate life cycle assessments of anion exchange resins as a potentially efficient and cost-effective option for both the treatment of bauxite residue leachates and the recovery of metals of critical importance such as vanadium.