E. Herrera, J. Evans
Keywords: biomining, critical minerals, lithium, rare earth, mining, synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, enzyme engineering, industrial biotechnology, hydrometallurgy
Summary:Lithium, Aluminum, Nickel, Cobalt, Rare Earth Elements, and other metals are deemed critical minerals due to their importance in modern manufacturing and are especially important in the transition towards decarbonization given their extensive use in batteries and electric engines. In nature, these metals are typically found encased in silica-based rock matrices. Unfortunately, these metal-containing minerals need extensive processing involving high heat and strong acid leaching to isolate the metals from the silicate matrices. This processing presents an expensive and environmentally hazardous hurdle to the extraction of these critical minerals. The present proposal aims to replace traditional mineral processing with engineered enzymes specifically designed via machine learning-aided directed evolution to depolymerize the silicate matrices of hard rock ores and liberate the metal ions. The end goal is a novel industrially relevant mineral processing scheme for metal isolation that operates under safer and more environmentally conscious conditions compared to acid roasting processing.