Academic Venture Fund - 2019

Mining Rare Earth Elements with Engineered Microorganisms

Test tubes with purple and yellow liquids

Rare earth elements (REEs) are critical ingredients of sustainable energy technologies including automotive electric motors and batteries. Extracting trace amounts of these elements from ore is a complicated process that produces large quantities of toxic waste and poses serious environmental challenges. Researchers will employ cutting-edge systems and synthetic biology, geochemistry, and microsystems engineering to explore using Gluconobacter oxydans, a naturally occurring microbe, to extract REEs from ore through commercially viable and efficient bio-leaching, therefore lowering the carbon footprint of smart energy systems that require these critical ingredients.

Investigators: Buz Barstow, Esteban Gazel, Mingming Wu