By Lenny Pierce
What if mining for precious metals no longer meant descending deep down into the earth to go find them? What if acquiring minerals such as nickel, zinc, and cadmium was as simple as planting a few flowers and watching them grow? A concept called “phytomining” could make just such a phenomenon possible.
Certain metals occur in soil that plants will naturally absorb through their root systems. Plenty of metals are actually poisonous to plants, so most species will either die from absorbing them or expel them from their tissue before they can do any harm. Plants classified as “hyperaccumulators”, however, will collect and concentrate these toxic metals in their tissue. Seeing as these plants often store these metals in their tasty leaves, this may be a way of deterring herbivores from feeding on them.
Nickel is an example of one metal that can be sucked up and stored by a hyperaccumulator. For humans, the current the process of obtaining nickel from soil is a highly complicated one. It entails transporting all of the soil in question to a special facility to draw out the high-prized element and then trucking the soil all the way back once the extraction is over with. The …read more