Harvesting metal from plants that suck it out of the ground

Originally published at: Harvesting metal from plants that suck it out of the ground | Boing Boing


Cool - but don’t chop 'em down - just bleed 'em like sugar maples.


This sounds like something the Elves and Dwarves would have collaborated on.


Neat! It’s like the flip side of Geobotanical prospecting
Though I do find it strange that the linked NYT article doesn’t once mention any of the hyperaccumulator plants by name. Odd.


I suppose it doesn’t work when the metals are deeper than the roots.


Blasphemy, dwarves would rather roll up their sleeves and dig. This sounds like a competing enterprise elves would dream up and sneer at the dwarves’ unrefined, brute force methods.


This reminds me of a video a science youtuber did somewhat recently, he wanted to see how much potassium you could get from bananas. Surprisingly he determined that the peel had as much sodium as the flesh itself (or more).


Can the plants extract lead? because


I know you’re joking, but yes. Sunflowers are most often used where I am. It’s an effective way to reclaim land, make it safe to grow food on again.
@j9c knows a lot about this topic.


Either scenario, I imagine the Ents would have something to say about it.


… and yeah, Pb (aka lead) has ~20 plants listed for it.

I do wish the fkn NY Times reporters would spend a bit more time and effort to conscientiously steer away from “inch deep, mile wide” writing.

They sure are handy, helpful and beautiful plants. Cited here re minefields and bioremediation:


Interesting that there are hyperaccumulators for such a range of metals, had no idea there was that much diversity there but i suppose its not surprising. I wonder how efficiently metals can be recovered from these plants, though its likely more desirable than strip mining an area either way.

Weren’t there also algaes and slugs (or something else) that were being used to filter or clean polluted waters? I recall watching a video years ago about tests on it.


The linked science direct article:

says that it’s Phyllanthus rufuschaneyi

I’m not sure that further publicizing the name of this endangered taxon serves much of a purpose, given that it’s almost certainly illegal to import into the United States. There might be a similar plant native to North America.

For instance, this article highlights Mediterranean plants, as well as southeast asian species.

Agromining: Farming for Metals in the Future?


Yeah, there’s a world of difference (in aims) between bioremediation and actual mining / phytomining.

If you’re looking for an effective, thorough, low-cost, scalable way to decontaminate soil at the surface or a specific, relatively shallow depth, then heck yeah, it’s certainly an option with well-documented results:


… but…

if the goal is extracting what a plant has mobilized into its own tissue as part of its life cycle, I’d like to see the data on energy in, energy out, total lifecycle analysis of the process, feedstocks, extracted products, etc. I have long objected to corn ethanol additives to gasolines in the U.S., because the total lifecycle accounting is net negative. It takes more energy to create than the energy it delivers to us as a fuel.

I do think using bioremediation to address slag or tailings from lead mines would be worth investigating, provided that there is a safe, longterm way to store the plants, cut down at maturity while still green, and bagged, in a secure landfill, assuming the lead could not be feasibly extracted otherwise, for primary purposes (again, the vagaries of late stage capitalism mean that if it ain’t economically viable or if the profit margin / ROI is too thin, it just ain’t gonna happen). Bioremediation would certainly create less dust, disturbance, and potential for wider contamination than what the U.S. EPA is proposing here:


Phytoremediation for lead has been worked on for more than 2 decades. I recall 20 years ago there were projects cleaning up surface lead contamination from urban areas (lead paint, presumably). The plants (I think buckwheat was one) could be harvested and ashed. Not mining, but (slow, cheaper, and less carbon intensive) cleanup.


It wasn’t so much naming that specific one that I was struck by, because I see the point in not wanting to draw undue attention that might lead to harvesting of this endangered plant. But it was kind of like verbal gymnastics to have written all those words for the article and not mention one single example, like are listed in the wikipedia link j9c posted. Just me meckering about the writing, that’s all.


In nature, everything is food for something else.
Yep. Everything.
But you knew that.
Sometimes the timescales are not fully grokkable by humans.

Shorter answer: yes.


Brassicas and elemental nickel are like the peanut-butter-and-chocolate team of nickel mobilization, sheesh:

No one ever went broke overestimating human capacity for folly, regardless of whether it’s legal or illegal to import flora or fauna. Especially for profit.

Thanks for the “Agromining: Farming for Metals in the Future?” article.


Surface decontamination is something phytoremediation is really good at.

Hopefully, if the plants used (and buckwheat is good at lead uptake ) were collected at the right time in the right way, the lead stays in the plant.

Disposal of vegetation containing lots of heavy metals is necessarily specific.

If only the “extractor” factory were somehow located by the incinerator, or landfill, or ashing facility, etc., so that properly marked vegetation could be diverted for its valuable in-tissue metals.

It’d be like a Busytown but for closed loop resource recovery! Woot! (I love closed loops.)

^^^ This! ^^^^


This phenomenon is why I had to stop recommending rice cereal for babies, since the rice plant tends to accumulate arsenic in areas of high soil content, like where cotton used to be grown.


Thanks for the different terms. I follow Communalist social ecology (basically a libertarian-socialist view that humans have to consider themselves to be part of the environment, not separate from it, but it is far more in depth than that.), and I think they will strongly be in favour of bioremediation but far less keen on phytomining.