24/7 Space News
TECH SPACE
Metal-loving microbes could replace chemical processing of rare earths
MIT stock illustration only
ADVERTISEMENT
Metal-loving microbes could replace chemical processing of rare earths
by Blaine Friedlander | Cornell Chronicle
Ithaca NY (SPX) Oct 04, 2023

Rare earth elements power electric cars, wind turbines and smartphones. Retrieving these metals from raw ore requires processing with acids and solvents.

Now, Cornell scientists have characterized the genome of Shewanella oneidensis - a metal-loving bacteria with an affinity for rare earth elements - to replace the harsh chemical processing with a benign practice called biosorption.

Their research, "Genomic Characterization of Rare Earth Binding by Shewanella oneidensis," was published Sept. 25 in Scientific Reports.

"The problem with the current methods of rare earth element purification is that they rely heavily on organic solvents and harsh chemicals," said senior author Buz Barstow, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"These methods are costly and environmentally damaging. Here we have a green alternative that uses microbes to selectively adsorb and purify rare earth elements, eliminating the need for harmful chemicals. We're making the purification process greener."

The microbe selectively adsorbs - or clings - to these rare earth elements, making it an ideal candidate to carry out an eco-friendly purification procedure.

Generally, S. oneidensis prefers dining on the f-block elements residing in the sixth row of the periodic table, known as the lanthanides. Specifically, the microbe favors europium.

Characterizing the S. oneidensis's genome allows scientists to tweak its preference for processing the other rare earth elements.

The scientists screened 3,373 parts of the S. oneidensis genome and found 242 genes that influence it.

The mutant genes found in the bacteria by the scientists can reduce the length of that rare earth element purification process by almost one-third - compared with the wild variety of S. oneidensis - and offers a roadmap for honing this green method.

"Our work points to key genes that control membrane composition that are traditionally responsible for cell adhesion and biofilm formation in rare earth element biosorption," said lead author Sean Medin, a doctoral student in Barstow's lab and a founder of REEgen. "This work advances the mechanisms responsible for rare earth elements biosorption in S. oneidensis."

This work has the potential to make processing rare earths cleaner and scalable, Medin said. "Currently all the purification of rare earth elements is done abroad, due to stringent environmental regulations and high infrastructure costs of building a separations plant," he said. "Our process would make environmentally harmful solvents unnecessary.

"Our process potentially would be significantly less land- and capital-intensive to build," Medin said, "as our separations could be done with repeated enrichment through columns full of immobilized bacteria instead of mixer-settler plants that are miles long."

While the technology is still in development, the researchers are optimistic about potential impact. This technology could help develop a stable U.S. supply of rare earth elements for technology and defense applications, said Barstow, a faculty fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

The group anticipates creating a pilot-scale purification system by 2028.

"This research gives us a genetic blueprint for making a microbe that allows us to purify rare earths in an environmentally friendly way," Barstow said. "If you want to reduce climate change, this allows us to build a sustainable energy infrastructure - things like improving electric vehicles, wind turbines, creating superconductors and offering high-efficiency lighting. That's the ultimate payoff."

In addition to Barstow and Medin, the co-authors of the paper are Alexa M. Schmitz, Ph.D. '18, CEO of REEgen; Brooke Pian '13, vice president of research at REEgen; Kuunemuebari Mini '22; Matthew C. Reid, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering (Cornell Engineering); Megan Holycross, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences (Cornell Engineering); Esteban Gazel, the Charles N. Mellowes Professor in Engineering; and Mingming Wu, professor of biological and environmental engineering (CALS).

Research Report:Genomic characterization of rare earth binding by Shewanella oneidensis

Related Links
Cornell University
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

RELATED CONTENT
The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
TECH SPACE
Green issues dominate Paris fashion as green tech marketplace debuts
Paris (AFP) Oct 2, 2023
Environmental activists tried to disrupt Louis Vuitton's event at Paris Fashion Week on Monday, while Britain's Stella McCartney made green technologies central to her own show as climate issues increasingly dominate the industry. One of France's biggest YouTube stars, Jeremstar, was briefly arrested after dressing like a "dismembered snake" to protest Louis Vuitton's use of animal skins, outside the brand's show on the Champs-Elysees. Activists also spray-painted the brand's nearby boutique, ... read more

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
TECH SPACE
Chinese universities climb up leading global ranking

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio returning to Earth after record 371 days in space

Kayhan Space Raises $7 million, Unveils First-Ever Autonomous Space Traffic Coordination Service

Two Russians, American reach space station

TECH SPACE
All engines added to NASA's Artemis II core stage

Historic NASA wind tunnel testing Mars Ascent Vehicle

Third Subscale Booster for future Artemis missions fires up at Marshall

'Anomaly' ends Rocket Lab launch mid-flight

TECH SPACE
Curiosity Needs an Altitude Adjustment: Sols 3955-3956

"Sombrero Rock": A Case of Case-Hardening?

Did life exist on Mars? Other planets? With AI's help, we may know soon

Big Fan of Rock Bands: Sols 3960-3961

TECH SPACE
Astronauts honored for contributions to China's space program

China capable of protecting astronauts from effects of space weightlessness

Tianzhou 5 spacecraft burns up on Earth reentry

Crew of Shenzhou XV mission honored for six-month space odyssey

TECH SPACE
Terran Orbital Announces Closing of $32.5 Million Public Offering

Iridium and McQ develop remote monitoring solution for Canadian Armed Forces in the Arctic

Terran Orbital announces pricing of Public Offering

Intelsat Inflight Connectivity expanded to all Airbus aircraft

TECH SPACE
Metal-loving microbes could replace chemical processing of rare earths

Material matters

Mineral-hungry clean tech sees countries seeking to escape China's shadow

Green issues dominate Paris fashion as green tech marketplace debuts

TECH SPACE
Study sheds new light on strange lava worlds

JWST's first spectrum of a TRAPPIST-1 planet

Alien Machines in the Solar System: The Possibilities and Potential Origins

Possible hints of life found on distant planet - how excited should we be?

TECH SPACE
Webb finds carbon source on surface of Jupiter's moon Europa

Hidden ocean the source of CO2 on Jupiter moon

Juice: why's it taking sooo long

Possible existence of Earth-like planet predicted in Outskirts of Solar System

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


ADVERTISEMENT



The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.