Microorganisms are employed to mine economically important elements from rocks, including the rare earth elements (REEs), used in electronic industries and alloy production. We carried out a mining experiment on the International Space Station to test hypotheses on the bioleaching of REEs from basaltic rock in microgravity and simulated Mars and Earth gravities using three microorganisms and a purposely designed biomining reactor. Sphingomonas desiccabilis enhanced mean leached concentrations of REEs compared to non-biological controls in all gravity conditions. No significant difference in final yields was observed between gravity conditions, showing the efficacy of the process under different gravity regimens. Bacillus subtilis exhibited a reduction in bioleaching efficacy and Cupriavidus metallidurans showed no difference compared to non-biological controls, showing the microbial specificity of the process, as on Earth. These data demonstrate the potential for space biomining and the principles of a reactor to advance human industry and mining beyond Earth.
|Number of pages||11|
|State||Published - 10 Nov 2020|