Sustainable Copper Extraction Using Synthetic Biology

Copper, a conductive metal, forms the basis of much of our manufacturing and electrical infrastructure. Yet, despite high demands for the metal, supply is not keeping pace. One of the chief reasons is that copper extraction faces steep technical challenges that have steadily pushed up capital expenditures. We propose to use a recent innovation called synthetic biology to greatly improve the efficiency and cost of copper extraction. Our method employs microorganisms that leach copper via a process called bioleaching. Despite the method’s promise, however, some challenges remain. Notably, the conditions that favour bioleaching result in the formation of a thin protective layer (passivation) around the copper ore. Further improvements in bioleaching are contingent on elimination of this layer. Our industrial partner, Jetti Services, has developed a proprietary catalyst that achieves this goal. However, dosage of the catalyst reduces microbial fitness. Consequently, we are employing genetic engineering to improve the fitness and metabolic output of the microbes to leach copper in the presence of the catalyst. Our work will significantly improve leaching yields and promises to be a game-changer for the mining industry.

Faculty Supervisor:

Vikramaditya Yadav


Gaurav Subedi


Jetti Services Canada Inc


Engineering - chemical / biological


Environmental industry




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