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Astronauts Have Used Bacteria to Extract Useful Metals out of Rocks

18 Sep 2021, 02:08 UTC
Astronauts Have Used Bacteria to Extract Useful Metals out of Rocks
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History has viewed mining as a job that requires a lot of heavy machinery and physical labor. Pulling valuable material out of the ground has been necessary for human progress for thousands of years. That progress has led to an alternative method of getting those resources out of the Earth or other celestial bodies. The new technique relies on a symbiotic life partner that has co-habited with us for millennia – bacteria. A recent experiment conducted by ESA’s Biorock investigation team shows that this process – known as “biomining” – might be the most effective way to collect some materials in space.

The new research wasn’t the first space-based Biorock experiment. In 2019, the team showed that it could extract rare Earth elements (REEs) using a biofilm attached to basalt, a type of igneous rock that is also present on both Mars and the Moon. REEs, though found almost everywhere on Earth, are only present at minuscule levels. Mining them is prohibitively expensive using traditional methods for most locations, though they are widely used in various industrial processes and high technology products.

Anton Petrov describing the process of biomining.Credit – Anton Petrov YouTube Channel

REEs weren’t the only material ...

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