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Bacteria that can mine rare-earth elements from wastewater identified

Mar. 02, 2023.
1 min. read Interactions

German researchers have identified bacteria that such critical minerals from wastewater

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conor o'higgins

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New research published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology reports on a novel way of extracting rare-earth elements from waste streams – using bacteria!

Rare-earth elements are vital in modern technology such as wind turbines, LEDs, catalysts, and magnets, but they are unevenly distributed around the world, and securing their supply in an uncertain geopolitical situation has been a cause of concern.

The researchers identified 12 with the highest accumulation rates for further study. These bacteria were able to accumulate high concentrations of REEs from wastewater without any need for additional energy inputs or chemical agents.

This research could pave the way towards a way of acquiring these metals with less environmental impact. Thomas Brück, a professor at the Technical University of Munich and the study’s last author, said, “The cyanobacteria described here can adsorb amounts of rare-earth elements corresponding to up to 10% of their dry matter. Biosorption thus presents an economically and ecologically optimized process for the circular recovery and reuse of rare earth metals from diluted industrial wastewater from the mining, electronic, and chemical-catalyst producing sectors.”

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