agromining minerals

Agromining minerals from plants extracts large quantities of metals from plants. Minerals including cobalt and nickel, are in the sap and leaves of rare plants, known as hyperaccumulators. Australian scientists Dr Antony van der Ent and Associate Professor Peter Erskine work in the UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation

Ent and Erskine lead research on novel ways to extract critical elements. Nickel and cobalt are needed in lithium-ion batteries and other high-tech demands. They established a test farm in Malaysia. The technology may

  • provide poor communities with a new source of income
  • Help rehabilitate former mining sites.

Nickel is the first focus of Agromining Minerals from Plants

Around the world about 700 plants accumulate minerals in their leaves. (hyperaccumulator). The UQ team have identified more than 150 plants. The tropical species, Pycnandra acuminate is from Indonesia. The species can accumulate up to 4% nickel in the leaves. This translates to over 300 kg of nickel per hectare per year in harvested biomass. The tree is grown, the branches cropped, then burnt and the ash is then about 40% nickel.

Nickel price is expected to trade at over $24,000 USD/MT, which equates to revenue of $7,200 per ha.

  • A unique characteristic of the bio-sourced nickel is the high purity
  • Ashed biomass contains 20–30% nickel
  • Few impurities usually associated with nickel ores.
  • Makes these bio-ores ideally suited for specific applications, particularly the electrochemical industry producing rechargeable batteries.
nickel agromining
The blue-green latex of the New Caledonian tree Pycnandra acuminata contains up to 25% nickel.

Other Hypoaccumulator Plants

Various hyperaccumulator plants.

  • Arsenic and cadmium are toxic
  • Selenium and zinc are beneficial.

Why The Lack of Commercialisation of Agromining Minerals?

  1. Two decades after its inception and numerous successful experiments, commercial phytomining has not yet become a reality. To build the case for the minerals industry, UQ says a large-scale demonstration is needed to identify operational risks and provide “real-life” evidence for profitability.

More Reading

  1. Agromining: Farming for Metals in the Future? Antony van der Ent, Alan J. M. Baker, Roger D. Reeves, Rufus L. Chaney, Christopher W. N. Anderson, John A. Meech, Peter D. Erskine, Marie-Odile Simonnot, James Vaughan, Jean Louis Morel, Guillaume Echevarria, Bruno Fogliani, Qiu Rongliang, and David R. Mulligan. Environmental Science & Technology 2015 49 (8), 4773-4780 DOI: 10.1021/es506031u
  2. The Future Tense podcast has more information or contact Dr Antony van der Ent or the UQ Team.
  3. University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute.