New Life for rare earths

Blandina Mangelkramer Communications and Media
Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg

FAU scientists want to recycle valuable substances by means of algae

The sustainable use of resources, for example with rare earth, is a central theme, when it comes to a variety of high technologies, which are used inter alia in the renewable energy. Da Rare earth nur sehr aufwändig zu isolieren sind und zurzeit fast ausschließlich von China auf dem Markt angeboten werden, is the development of intelligent and environmentally friendly recycling methods is of great importance for the industry. The Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) has developed a process, with the rare earth elements from industrial waste water, derived for example from spoil heaps from mining activities, can be obtained particularly environmentally friendly.

The use of rare earth is not only for the IT- and consumer electronics industry, but also for the production of wind power- and solar systems and hence for the implementation of renewable energy concept of the Federal Government of high importance. Within Germany, the state of Bavaria has one of the highest densities of companies in the chemical, the metalworking industry and the special technology, all of which are also active in the renewable energy sector. Therefore, the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection promotes the development of a method developed by the FAU with 380.000 Euro. The Bavarian Minister of the Environment Ulrike Scharf on 12. December 2014 the grant officially handed over to the scientists in Erlangen and visited the research facilities.

Prof.. Dr. Rainer Buchholz, of the Institute of Biochemical passes at FAU, already experimenting for a decade with various types of microalgae. One focus of his work is on, to extract from algae recyclables, which may be beneficial to people - from the use in the medicine to food-producing. In light of these tests is growing evidence has shown, let that metal ions outstanding "dock" from dilute solutions on the surface of microalgae. As part of the project supported the Erlanger researchers therefore want to develop a method of economic and ecological value metal extraction with a specific focus on rare earths, which is fundamentally different from the established bacterial process: It is the first time a geobiotechnologischen approach to sustainable commodity hedging. Microalgae can be produced in comparison to bacterial systems far more cost effective, because they do not make high demands on environment and nutrition. Preliminary results also show, that the metal binding even works with dead algae. This makes an easy use in practice possible. Scientists led by Prof. Buchholz want to test in the framework of the project, how then let out of the resulting laden algae biomass conversion metals again.

As part of the permit transfer in Erlangen Environment Minister Ulrike Sharp reiterated their concern: "We need a raw material shift. The waste of today are the raw materials of tomorrow. The goal is clear: We want to reduce the use of new raw materials and recover valuable resources in the best possible. The destruction of natural resources shall be paid by future generations. "

Prof.. Dr. Rainer Buchholz: "Microalgae are a very promising object of research - that we have observed repeatedly in the study of various problems. Whether for the recovery of raw materials or making better use of solar energy - as we try Bioverfahrensingenieure, to make the excellent properties of microalgae for the Company available. We are confident, that this will be possible also for the recycling process rare earths. "

For more information:
Dr. Andreas Perlick
Tel.: 09131/85-23018


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