Innovative process to recover rare earth elements
Rare earth elements are currently essential for a variety of high-end technologies, e.g. smartphones, hybrid automotive technology, and alternative energy supply. In fact these elements are not really rare, but uniformly spread in the earth crust resulting in few slightly higher concentrated deposits available for surface mining, which is quite polluting our environment. At the moment (Actually), the global demand for these elements is more or less covered by China, making the rest of the world quite dependent. All this leads to an increasing interest in alternative and sustainable processes to obtain (recover) rare earth elements from independent and so far unutilised sources..
Some microalgal and other phototroph species are known to bind heavy metals. Moreover, selected species are even able to bind individual metal elements preferentially from mixtures. The fact that micro algae utilise light as energy and CO2 as carbon source put them in the focus of current biotechnological research (or made them very attractive for current biotechnological research.
In this project we work on the identification of biological species with the capacity to bind rare earth elements from highly diluted solutions to enrich them. After their identification, their binding properties concerning rare earth elements will be characterized in detail under various conditions. Eventually, we will develop an innovative biotechnological process enabling exploiting hitherto unconsidered sources for rare earth elements in an sustainable way.
This project is carried out in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Thomas Brück, Werner Siemens-Chair of Synthetic Biotechnology, TU Munich, within the framework of the ForCycle-Consortium financed by the Bavarian State Ministry of Environment and Consumer Protection (project number: BAF01SoFo-66947).
Heilmann M, Jurkowski W, Buchholz R, Brueck T, Becker AM (2015): Biosorption of Neodymium by Selected Photoautotropic and Heterotropic Species. J Chem Eng Process Technol 6: 241