Bio-Inspired Harvesting of Rare Earth Metals

E.D. Spoerke
Sandia National Laboratories,
United States

Keywords: bio-inspired, rare earth materials, sustainability


Rare earth metals (REMs; lanthanides plus yttrium and scandium) are critical elements of high tech applications including telecommunications, energy infrastructure, lighting, renewable energy, medical technologies, defense technologies, and other essential advanced systems. REMs are often found in dilute concentrations or in complex mixtures, making them difficult and expensive to harvest and separate. Recent discoveries, however, have shown that select biological systems, such as methyltrophic bacteria, can efficiently harvest, separate, and concentrate REMs. Understanding continues to grow around the specific compositional and structural properties of the biomolecules responsible for this remarkable REM-harvesting capability. In the present work we combine computational and experimental work, seeking to use specific chemical inspiration from these biological systems toward the design and synthesis of a new class of non-biological, engineered materials capable of effective REM harvesting from either natural or recycled feedstocks. Here, we will describe our concept, approach, and experimental progress toward the development of this promising new technology.