Nottingham to collaborate with Technical University of Denmark on project that will provide a sustainable alternative to metal mining

Tuesday, 24 October 2023

Researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering and Technical University of Denmark (DTU) are set to collaborate for the first time on a project that could minimise our global carbon footprint through the recovery of rare earth elements in waste.

Metals are an essential part of modern-day life, even our smart phones are pocket-sized vaults of critical metals containing several rare earth elements that produce colours, give the screen its glow, or make up the magnets in the speakers. However, there is only a finite supply and, currently, these are mainly accessed through mining, which has a detrimental impact on the environment.

To reduce global reliance on critical metal mining, Nottingham and Denmark have received a six-figure investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for Project BEAR, to identify a new efficient, low-cost, environmentally friendly solution to recover these precious metals.

Dr Helena Gomes, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, said: “Our ultimate goal is to create a circular economy by using metal-tolerant bacteria isolated from different environments and exploit their capability to dissolve metals in a reactor with a low-level electric current. To do this, we’re going to combine two different technologies – bioleaching and electrodialysis.

“Bioleaching uses acid-producing bacteria to solubilise metals from various wastes, but it can be a slow process, which is where electrodialysis comes in. It uses low-level electric currents to transport and separate the metals much more quickly."

By speeding up this method, we’re creating a more efficient, sustainable process that can be scaled up for use in different types of waste.
Dr Helena Gomes

Dr Gomes continued: "In this project, we are also looking at valorising the residues after metal recovery as construction materials, for closing the loop.” 

The two-year project will see several exchange visits between the two institutions, where each team can benefit from the other’s expertise and facilities through a series of collaborative workshops and industry visits.

The BEAR project is timely and more urgent than ever. The EU is pushing the green agenda and investing more and more in renewable energy – which is highly dependent on scarce and rare earth metals. We need to find circular and low-carbon-intensive ways to extract these metals from secondary waste materials. The collaboration between the University of Nottingham and DTU is pivotal to achieve this.
Ana Lima, Senior Researcher at Technical University of Denmark

Dr Gomes added: “Being selected by the EPSRC to undertake this research has been no small task as it’s a fiercely competitive field. So, I’m incredibly proud of both our teams for securing the funding and look forward to working closely with the team at DTU in the years to come.”

Story credits

More information is available from Helena Gomes, Faculty of Engineering, at, or; Danielle Hall, Media Relations Manager at the University of Nottingham, at or 0115 846 7156.     

About the Faculty of Engineering

Made up of six departments – Architecture and Built Environment, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering and Foundation Engineering and Physical Sciences – the university’s Faculty of Engineering is home to more than 5,600 students and 800 staff. 

The faculty, which has educated engineers and architects for more than 140 years, was the first in the country to be accredited with an Athena SWAN Gold Award for excellence in advancing gender equality across higher education and research and is home to multiple state-of-the-art facilities, including the recently opened £40m Power Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC). 

With research at its heart, 20 research groups are undertaking pioneering projects for a sustainable future across several themes – including net zero transport, sustainable energies and the built environment, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare technologies – and has delivered a positive impact in more than 20 countries. The faculty’s research has benefitted 500 companies and three governments and has also directly created jobs for around 3,000 people across the world.

Danielle Hall - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798