There is a conundrum around rare earth elements (REE). They play a key role in clean energy, vital to the production of lightweight, efficient batteries and essential components in wind turbines. Conversely, conventional extraction of these elements raises environmental concerns ranging from habitat destruction to water and air pollution to the high amount of energy needed to extract and process these elements.
To solve this quandary, Penn State researchers found inspiration under the sea: mussel stickiness. By mimicking this natural glue, the researchers developed a new mussel-inspired nanocellulose coating (MINC) that has demonstrated what they call a “remarkable, even surprising” ability to recover REEs from secondary sources such as industrial wastewater without using a high amount of energy.