The funding is part of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Critical Mineral Extraction from Ocean Macroalgal Biomass Exploratory Topic aimed at evaluating the capabilities of macroalgal varieties to accumulate critical minerals and the ability to efficiently extract these minerals in an economically viable form.
As ARPA-E director, Evelyn N. Wang, explained in a press release: “Seaweeds accumulate trace metals in such an efficient way that this process is sometimes used to clean up polluted harbours. It would be transformative if we could harness that capability to harvest the critical rare earths we need for a net-zero economy in a low-impact way using this natural ability.”
Rare earth elements and platinum group metals are critical to the manufacture of modern energy and national security technologies, such as electric vehicles, high-efficiency lighting, and wind turbines. While demand for these elements and metals continues to increase, economically and environmentally viable deposits are difficult to realise, especially within the United States.
Research suggests that macroalgae may be an effective bioaccumulator of critical minerals. However, the environmental and biological variables influencing the capacity of macroalgae as a bioaccumulator are poorly understood. In addition, while extraction methods exist, the ability to extract minerals efficiently and selectively from macroalgae in an environmentally sustainable manner (e.g. reduced carbon generation and/or water use) alongside the valorisation of other macroalgal components is limited.
The Critical Mineral Extraction from Ocean Macroalgal Biomass Exploratory Topic will focus on two complementary tasks:
- Identifying mechanisms and maximizing the bioaccumulation of elements in brown or red marine macroalgal species cultivated in the US Exclusive Economic Zone; and
- Developing new processes for the efficient extraction and processing of elements into usable forms for energy applications from macroalgal biomass alongside valorisation of other macroalgal components (i.e., carbon content, nitrates, etc.).
Click here to access more information on the ARPA-E eXCHANGE.