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University of Idaho tests new ways to mine rare metals

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The future of technology and green energy could have its start at the University of Idaho.

Professors and grad students say they're making headway on new ways to mine rare earth elements.

Rare earth metals have played a vital role in the world wide economy because they can be used in batteries, computers and tablets, electric cars and more.

Even though the United States currently depends on foreign countries to mine the metal, many parts of Idaho have a high concentration of these elements.

But mining them with the current methods can have catastrophic environmental consequences.

Researchers from the Department of Energy, INL and University of Idaho are looking to change that.

One way that has shown promise is through Phytomining, which uses plants to absorb and mine the elements.

"We use plants to grow and absorb carbon from the earth," Amin Mirkouei, PhD said.

"They grow and produce a mass that has a high concentration of rare elements."

"We grow the plants," U of I undergrad student Kat Richardson said. "We burn off any organic matter that we're not interested in, and we get this really concentrated (mass of) what's called bio ore, and that's really rich in the elements that we want, and then it makes it easier for us to extract those molecules."

Many of Idaho's own native plants can be used for the process, including brown mustard, black nightshade and reed canary grass.

Researchers say the metals could be mined by plants in Idaho in the future.

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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8.


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