Developing biotechnology to turn plants into metals

What is the Challenge?

The electrification of cars, homes and grids comes with the sad fact that mining the materials needed is extremely slow and pollutive. As a whole, the mining sector emits 4-7% of global greenhouse gas and generates devastating levels of water and soil contamination. And yet, to meet electrification goals according to the IEA, overall metal output will need to grow by 6 times and nickel output by 19 times. The opening of a new nickel mine can take up to 22 years just to become operational. Is it possible to find a sustainable solution to the increased nickel demand whilst retrieving it quicker and in a less harmful way?

What is the Solution?

Genomines enhances the natural ability of plants to absorb metals. By using synthetic biology, they improve the plants’ ability and efficiency to extract bioavailable metals while simultaneously remediating land. Genomines addresses soils with toxic levels of nickel and other heavy metals that cannot be economically extracted with conventional mining processes. The plants’ growth is optimized by enhancing the microbiome, with no use of synthetic fertilizers, and within a few months, the plants are ready to harvest. Once harvested, metals are recovered from the biomass by combining environmentally-friendly techniques.

The French-based startup team partnered with local distributors to try to grow the plants and recover the metal from the biomass. The result showed that Genomines’ prototype plants mined 50 times more metal than normal plants on low-concentrated soils. It is a truly sustainable solution given that the plants capture carbon dioxide and significantly contribute to the depollution of the soil during the process.