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Sustainable bio-mining of rare Earth elements utilizing microorganism biotechnology

Raised of $4,994 Goal
Funded on 5/18/22
Successfully Funded
  • $5,119
  • 102%
  • Funded
    on 5/18/22

About This Project

Rare Earth Elements (REE) are highly sought after for their powerful magnetic properties and energy efficient characteristics. REE's must be obtained from the ground in mineral deposits. Conventional methods use sulfuric acid to leach the metals into solution and errors may contribute to the 500,000 U.S abandoned mines. Our bio-mining research, aims to develop natural occurring microorganisms to bio-mine REE at circumneutral pH 5-8, in the Arctic and Space.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

Rare Earth Elements (REE) are used in major industries. For example, Gadolinium based MRI helps detect internal diseases, 920Lbs of REE are used to manufacture F-35 jets and REEs make up magnets in renewable energy devices. China , not the U.S, controls 80% of the world's available REE supply and this vast amount of REE's poses a national security risk to the U.S.

Conventional methods of acid mining extraction using sulfuric acid and cyanide to leach REE's poses an environmental hazard because once leaked into a watershed, the acid can further leach metal contaminants from rocks. Biomining research being conducted at the University of Alaska could provide sustainable REE biomining solutions for new REE mines on Earth.

What is the significance of this project?

Bio-mining Rare Earth Elements (REE) could help prevent future mine leaks by lessening the acids used in extraction and even aid in cleaning up the 550,000 U.S. abandoned mines; cost to clean these mines was estimated at $54 billion . The new 54 REE exploration projects are in the USA (Alaska), Canada and Greenland. Implementing biomining could make for a surgical-like approach to sustainable extractions in Arctic mines.

Regarding climate change, many new green devices such as electric vehicles, wind turbines, advanced computers, medical diagnostics and solar cells require REE components to function. The need for REEs are expected to increase and a sustainable environmentally friendly process to extract the REEs is needed.

What are the goals of the project?

The main goal of this research is to develop multiple bio-mining agents that can economically extract REE at circumneutral pH, operate within days and function in a wide temperature range. Current research has identified a microbe that can extract 60-80% of REE at circumneutral pH. Further research has optimized growth media, reduced process rates from 9 to 5 weeks, and increased extraction efficiencies now proceeding to bioreactor-factorial simulations.

While initial testing has been positive, process rates need to be reduced to days and additional microbes that can operate in a wide range of temperatures are needed for this biotechnology to be an economical alternative.


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The main equipment vessels and additional materials shall come from prior lab funds. The minIONs will allow for full genome sequencing for experimental & control groups; this gives insight into what genes have changed, what genes are expressed and possible mechanisms of interactions. The 0.2 micron filters allow for proper sterilization of samples and ensuring final materials/samples are clean for further processing. The ICP-MS quantification is necessary in determining specific Rare Earth Element amounts from each microorganism and their conditions. These materials and more provide the chance to continue laboratory experimentation to develop as well as understand bio-mining microorganisms.

Endorsed by

Rare earth elements (REEs) are essential to the modern economy. Their demand has exceeded their supply and will continue to surge. Traditional methods use sulfuric acid to leach REEs into a solution and are hazardous to the environment. To address these issues, Michael Martinez pioneered an environmentally friendly sustainable method for extracting REEs using naturally occurring microorganisms at circumneutral pH. I highly endorse Michael's inspired and internationally recognized award-winning approach. It can help fulfill a critical need.

Project Timeline

Testing of REE extracting microorganisms in bioreactors January-February 2022 , Genome sequencing & ICP-MS REE quantification March-April, Data analysis and mechanism proposals April-May.

Patenting of developed microorganisms possible and course of actions on standby for doing so.

De-identified and conceptual information may be presented.

Jan 04, 2022

Have microorganism growth and begin experiment biomining extraction.

Feb 15, 2022

End of First trial, using filters through this point and shipping off for ICP-MS quantification.

Apr 18, 2022

Project Launched

Meet the Team

Michael Martinez
Michael Martinez
Bio-mining Researcher (REE) UAA


University of Alaska Anchorage
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Team Bio

The Rare Earth Element (REE) Biomining Team at the University of Alaska is made up of researchers driven by the goal to make bio-mining a real worldwide solution. Dr. Brandon Briggs PhD oversees technical experiment design with his years of expertise in microbiology. Michael Martinez, chemistry , leads the hands on bio-mining experimentation and innovation design. Michael leads the new 2021 Undergraduate researchers Roger Gebauer and Brooke Branson.

Michael Martinez

Mr. Michael Martinez is from Anchorage, Alaska. He is of Yup'ik and Otomi ethnicities, Alaska Native. Michael has research experience since 2014 ranging from cancer research with Dr. Martinson at the WWAMI School of Medical Education, applied microbiology research with Dr. Briggs at the University of Alaska Anchorage and kidney ceramide therapeutic research with Dr. Summers at the University of Utah. Michael has submitted the NSF PhD Research Grant proposal for bio-mining and plans for a PhD in Biological Sciences/Biochemistry to begin fall 2022.

Michael's main focus is developing microorganisms to bio-mine Rare Earth Elements from ores at circumneutral pH 5-8. Rare Earth Elements are vital for developing new technologies and are used in renewable energy devices due to their magnetic properties. Michael has been honored in Washington D.C to President Biden by Senator Sullivan for advancing this research. He recently presented current bio-mining findings at the National Academy of Inventors ,November 2021.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

This bio-mining research has received grants from University of Alaska Fairbanks' Center ICE /NSF-innovation corps and Michael Martinez has been honored in Washington D.C by Senator Sullivan.

With more support, I believe bio-mining has a chance to change the global mining industry and even provide solutions for cleaning abandoned mines. The core research still needs further Research and Development to prove applicable to the real world. Michael presented recent bio-mining research findings at the 2021 National Academy of Inventors.

Project Backers

  • 6Backers
  • 102%Funded
  • $5,119Total Donations
  • $853.17Average Donation
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