U.S. Government Is Funding Critical Mineral Extraction from Algae

by | 5. May 2023 - 12:07 | Knowledge

Securing additional domestic sources is essential to decrease dependency on imports.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced to allocate $5 million to explore the feasibility of extracting rare earth elements (REE) and other critical raw materials from macroalgae to secure additional domestic sources besides traditional mining. The financing stems from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) which funds new technologies that are typically too early in development for private-sector investment. ARPA-E’s new Critical Mineral Extraction from Ocean Macroalgal Biomass Exploratory Topic is now aimed at evaluating the capabilities of a variety of macroalgae to concentrate critical minerals and whether the extraction of these minerals is possible in an economically viable way.

The U.S. currently only has one domestic source of rare earth elements (REE), Mountain Pass mine operated by MP Materials. Hence, the country is highly dependent on imports, especially from China. The People’s Republic accounts for the majority of REE mining and processing. The growing importance of REEs for the energy transformation and electromobility has driven Western nations to establish additional sources to limit their dependencies and create independent supply chains. For example, the U.S. has announced to increase efforts to boost the domestic production of REE magnets used in wind turbines and other clean energy fields.

Just recently, Researchers from San Diego State University (SDSU) announced to experiment with bacteria to extract REEs from tailings and other mining residue. The SDSU program is attempting to create a biofilter to harvest the remaining raw material from the leftovers from former and existing mines. But also the field of recycling has become an additional source of critical minerals for example extracting cobalt and other raw materials from used electric vehicle batteries like Mitsubishi is exploring.

Photo: iStock/Inusuke

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