Researchers to use plants in platinum mining

Researchers in the University of York' s Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence and the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) are giving a whole new meaning to the concept of “green mining,” as they said Friday they will develop a technique called "phyto-mining," which uses plants to extract platinum group metals (PGM) discarded during mine processing.

The extracted mine waste materials, said the researches in a press release, will be incorporated into the plants’ genetic structure. These cells, used to “phyto-mine” PGMs, can be turned into materials for a variety of industrial applications – the one in most demand being catalytic converters for vehicle emissions control.

The $1.4 million project is being backed by the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding. The University of York in the UK leads the group, with support from Yale University, the University of British Columbia in Canada and Massey University in New Zealand.

Professor James Clark, the Director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York, said the team would investigate vegetable organisms known as hyper accumulators, which include about 400 species from more than 40 plant families. Clark added that certain kinds, such as willow, corn and mustard have developed a resistance to specific metals and can accumulate relatively large amounts of them.

“This project will allow us to investigate the mechanisms behind this process and provide a green method for extracting metals from mine tailings that are currently uneconomical to recover,” adds Professor Neil Bruce, of CNAP.