Ukraine: Applying Biotechnology to Mining

TU Bergakademie Freiberg organized a conference on "Biotechnology in Mining" in Ukraine from April 25 to 27, 2018. The event took place at the Bergakademie's partner university in the industrial city of Dnipro, and was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

With DAAD support, there has been intensive academic exchange with the Technical University (the "National Mining University") in Dnipro since 2013. When the cooperation began, the Bergakademie's Professors Hermann Heilmeier and Michael Schlömann held lectures on new biotechnologies in mining – lecture courses that were then adopted and developed further by Ukrainian lecturers. In addition, six Bachelor's and six Master's students from the Ukraine visited Saxony's best-known mining town in 2015 and 2016. "Two master's theses have just been completed with very good results," reported project coordinator Prof. Hermann Heilmeier. "I was able to take part in the master thesis defense by Skype, so I could help in assessing the work!"

At the recent conference in Dnipro, Ukraine, the broad field of biological research in mining was presented and discussed. This allowed Prof. Heilmeier to present his phytomining project "Phalaris II". The project involves the cultivation of reed canarygrass, which has the ability to absorb the element germanium from the soil and store it. "This is interesting because Germanium is an important raw material for semiconductor technologies," explained Prof. Heilmeier. "Unfortunately, the concentrations involved are not yet sufficient for commercial exploitation. We are still researching this by, for example, using different varieties or by cultivating the soil in certain ways." Experiments are also being carried out with strategically important rare earth elements. Since they are used as catalysts and in permanent magnets for environmental technologies, they are strategically important substances that should not only be imported from Africa or from Asia, but should also be produced here in Europe, if possible.

The cooperation with Ukraine is also interesting because huge areas are available there for cultivation. Land in the immediate vicinity of Freiberg is also being used in the project.

Another initiative is the recultivation of contaminated soils, as can be found in Ukraine near the Chernobyl reactor and in the vicinity of coal-fired power stations. Plants can be used here to detoxify the soil in an environmentally friendly manner. However, these soils and power-plant ashes also frequently contain high concentrations of strategic raw materials that might be suitable for biological extraction.

Prof. Carsten Drebenstedt (Professor of Mining & Surface Mining) and Prof. Michael Schlömann (Director of the Institute of Biosciences) are also involved in the cooperation with the Ukrainian university.

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Contact Person: Prof. Hermann Heilmeier, Tel +49 3731 39-3208