Development of Rapid and Scalable Biotechnologies for Selective Recovery of Rare Earth Elements

E. Perkins
US Army Engineer Research and Development Center,
United States

Keywords: biotechnology, Rare earth element, separation, purification


Rare earth elements (REE) are essential components of many advanced technologies from magnets in hard drives to Jet components. However, harvesting REE in the US has been severely limited as current approaches for recovering and purifying individual REE are not environmentally friendly, are energy and solvent intensive, and cannot easily separate individual REE. To address these drawbacks and strengthen the domestic REE supply chain, our objective is to develop reliable biology-based approaches that can economically and effectively separate and recover individual REE from a diverse range of sources including e-waste, treated acid mine drainage, and contaminated groundwater. We are focusing on the development of biotechnologies for REE separation. We are developing highly selective binding proteins and peptides for bio-separation through the application of a broad range of innovative approaches including: Rational Design-based protein engineering using quantum mechanics/classical molecular mechanics modeling, Machine Learning-directed protein engineering, directed evolution, and high throughput screening of binding pocket and varying lengths of protein motif libraries. We will examine the performance of several different platforms to display engineered biomolecules, including: yeast surface display, Bacillus spores, bacteriophage, Elastin-Like Peptides, synthetic membrane pores, resin beads, and a cellulose binding matrix using a rapid design, build, test, learn cycle approach. Techno-Economic Assessments will be used throughout the effort to assess potential scalability and viability of different approaches and will be used to down select technologies for further testing from the bench scale to larger scales.