European ultramafic soils are rather unfertile, although sometimes still used by agriculture (e.g. Albania), and contain high concentrations of metals and deficiency of nutrient (N, P and K). They cover several thousands of km2 across Europe. As a nature-based solution (NBS), the idea of phytomining metals emerged in the 90s and the goal was to cultivate plants able to accumulate trace metals from metal-rich soils and transport them to the shoots (>1%), which could then be harvested as a bio-ore to recover highly valuable metals, e.g. nickel (Ni).
More recently, the concept has evolved as an integrated chain from soil management to production of bio-sourced refined metal products, i.e. agromining. Several start-up companies are about to commercially develop Ni agromining and a strong research effort is needed to develop a more sustainable chain of production based on the principles of agro-ecology and circular economy. can offer an eco-efficient alternative to classical pyro- or hydrometallurgical processes, as well as providing biomass for local energy production.
The research project aims to implement agroecosystems which can lead to better soil resource efficiency and to offer a fully integrated, new agromining agriculture that could cover thousands of km2 in Europe and benefit local communities with sustainable rural development.
The project has identified, and aims to overcome, the bottlenecks that need to be solved before agromining fully develops in Europe. Traditional agronomy has already been developed for the Ni-hyperaccumulator Alyssum murale but further steps need to be taken in the move towards a more resource-friendly agriculture. This include the evaluation of all potential crops among Ni-hyperaccumulators, long-term effect on soil fertility and biota, optimisation of ecosystem services, optimisation of energy and metal recovery and finally, the re-use of the by-products of the different stages of metal recovery.
Botanical biogeochemical and ecological exporation of ultramafic sites, Transdisciplinary research for agronomy from pot experiments to field trials (European network of agronomic trials) Ecological evaluation and assessement, Evaluation of Ecosystem Services, Life Cycle Assessment Dissemination and Transfer of Technology thanks to the LIFE AGROMINE project.
Prof. Guillaume Echevarria,
University of Lorraine, France
Project period: 02/2016 - 01/2019
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria
Jagiellonian University, Poland
Agricultural University of Tirana, Albania
Università di Firenze, Italy
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Institute of Technology, Greece
Total funding: 589.000 €