Lab Canada

Plants recover metals from mine waste

Vancouver, BC – A research study to explore the use of plants to recover precious metals from mine tailings has received a $1.4 million grant. Researchers at the University of British Columbia and an international team have made initial studies which show that plant cells used to phyto-mine PGM can be used for a variety of industrial applications – the one in most demand being catalytic converters for vehicle emissions control.

Currently, metals obtained from ores contain platinum group metals (PGM) some of which are lost through various stages of processing. The research will investigate “phyto-mining,” which involves growing plants on mine waste materials to sponge up PGM into their cellular structure. For PGM phyto-mining, the researchers will investigate plants known as hyperaccumulators that include about 400 species from more than 40 plant families. Plants such as willow, corn and mustard have evolved a resistance to specific metals and can accumulate relatively large amounts of these metals, which once absorbed into the plants’ cellular structure form nano-scale clusters than can then be used directly as a catalyst. The PHYTOCAT project is supported by the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding.