Novel Process for More Sustainable Mining Methods

ME Professor Al Aksan is co-PI on an NSF-funded project to investigate designing a bacterial system to extract critical minerals from mining for valuable metals, making conventional mining methods more sustainable.

The team is hoping to create an innovative biofilm using two microbes: Bacillus subtilis and Deinococcus radiodurans. By bio-engineering their characteristics to work together and target specific metals, the two could prove to be a game-changing combination for mining and remediation. "Extraction and purification of rare earth elements (REEs) requires large amounts of energy, and processes that are not environmentally friendly," said Aksan. "This project focuses on using smart filters that utilize bacterial consortia to isolate and concentrate REEs from waste-streams and recycled electronics using very low energy processes." Aksan and the team are hoping that recycling and reusing REE waste can help transition to a green energy economy. 

The process of creating the new biofilm is complicated, but once constructed, the end product could be recreated using a 3D printer — providing a widely available and easily produced technology that binds and then sheds specific metals, both collecting REEs from waste and allowing them to be reused. The team is in the beginning stages of 

Aksan's co-PI is BioTechnology Institute Director Claudia Schmidt-Dannert. The team also includes members of the Lawrence Livermore Lab, Georgia Tech, and more.