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Dr Anna Kimmel
Business Development Executive Edinburgh Innovations

University of Edinburgh researchers are finding novel, sustainable and economically viable solutions to the problem of finite critical metal resources.

Critical metals such as gold, copper, the rare earths, and palladium are at the forefront of global technological advances. Not only are they essential for the vast array of electronic devices we rely on in our rapidly decarbonising society, but these metals will also underpin our capacity for construction, infrastructure and low-carbon energy. And yet, these metals are a finite resource, so it’s crucial that we develop processes and technologies that enable us to repurpose the supply we already have.

Many conventional metal recovery approaches are very damaging to the environment. Future waste generation will be exacerbated by the increasing use of low-grade ores. Highly efficient and low waste/zero emission technologies are urgently required to replace these methods and help us transition to a circular economy.

Sustainable solutions

At the University of Edinburgh, GeoSciences, Physics, Chemistry and Synthetic Biology researchers working at the leading edge of their respective fields are developing innovative, sustainable approaches to metal recovery from mining:

Chemical recycling revolution

Head of the School of Chemistry and Professor of Molecular Inorganic Chemistry Jason Love is using advances in coordination and supramolecular chemistry to achieve sustainable metal recycling from electronic waste, as well as from other sources. New scalable methods for dissolving and separating valuable metals like gold and rare-earth elements from e-waste have been discovered that have the potential to drastically reduce the economic, human and environmental costs associated with current mining and recycling practices.

To discuss collaborations with Professor Love, please contact Dr Teresa Raventos, Business Development Executive.

Understanding metal extraction mechanisms through computational chemistry

Professor Carole Morrison works in the field of computational chemistry and uses computational modelling to both fill in the gaps left by experiment and guide new experimental research in critical metals recovery. By simulating the interactions between metals and various chemicals, the Morrison Group have been able to gain valuable insights into the efficiency of metal recovery from different sources, including waste materials. This information can then be used to inform the development of improved extraction methods which are not only more efficient but also more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

To discuss collaborations with Professor Morrison, please contact Dr Teresa Raventos, Business Development Executive.

Nanotech from nature's toolkit

Professor Louise Horsfall, Chair of Sustainable Biotechnology, is exploring the fascinating potential of synthetic biology for metal recycling. She has developed a biobased process for the selective recovery of metals from automotive lithium-ion batteries.

The recovered cobalt, nickel and manganese materials are being characterised and tested for their reuse in green technologies. The lithium remains in solution, forming a bio-brine from which it can also be recovered for reuse. This approach can work for other metals too such as platinum and palladium, resulting in nanoparticles with enhanced catalytic properties.

While the developing process is currently carried out in laboratory conditions, the aim is to make it economically viable for deployment at an industrial scale, with a wide range of applications.

To discuss collaborations with Professor Horsfall, please contact Dr John Morrow, Business Development Executive.

Sustainable bio-mining from Space technologies

The University of Edinburgh’s UK Centre for Astrobiology is at the forefront of world-class biomining development. Biomining is a relatively environmentally friendly alternative to traditional mining that paves the way for a sustainable human future.

The groundbreaking research of Professor Charles Cockell's group employs microbiology, planetary physics and space engineering to advance sustainable space exploration and solve environmental issues on Earth. Designed and tested in space, the group’s biomining methods using microorganisms can be used on Earth for the treatment of mining waste to salvage discarded minerals and maximise the yields of low-grade ore deposits.

To discuss collaborations with Professor Cockell, please contact Dr Anna Kimmel, Business Development Executive.

Remediation methods for hexavalent chromium in complex matrices

Professor Margaret Graham, Personal Chair in Environmental Geochemistry, is investigating mining waste pollution in both water and soil. Hexavalent chromium and cadmium pollution are growing, global problems, with their presence in soil and public water systems often the result of mining activities. The risk of significant health impacts necessitates the development of low-cost, sustainable methods to remediate contaminated land as well as decontaminating waters.

Urgent action is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet net-zero targets. The work being done by these researchers and others at the University of Edinburgh has enormous potential to radically change waste management practices, make mining sustainable and build a more circular economy.

To discuss collaborations with Professor Graham, please contact Stuart Simmons, Business Development Executive.