Possible accumulation of critical metals in plants that hyperaccumulate their chemical analogues?


Lithium (Li), gallium (Ga) and indium (In) are industry-critical metals, with no known plant species that (hyper)accumulate these metals to any substantial degree. We hypothesised that sodium (Na) hyperaccumulators (i.e., halophytes) may accumulate Li, whilst aluminium (Al) hyperaccumulators may accumulate Ga and In, based on the chemical similarities of these elements. Experiments were conducted in hydroponics at various molar ratios for six weeks to determine accumulation in roots and shoots of the target elements. For the Li experiment, the halophytes Atriplex amnicola, Salsola australis and Tecticornia pergranulata were subjected to Na and Li treatments, whilst for the Ga and In experiment, Camellia sinensis was exposed to Al, Ga, and In. The halophytes were able to accumulate high shoot Li and Na concentrations reaching up to ~10 g Li kg-1 and 80 g Na kg-1, respectively. The translocation factors for Li were higher than for Na (about two-fold) in A. amnicola and S. australis. The results from the Ga and In experiment show that C. sinensis is capable of accumulating high concentrations of Ga (mean 150 mg Ga kg-1), comparable with Al (mean 300 mg Al kg-1), but virtually no In (<20 mg In kg-1) in its leaves. Competition between Al and Ga suggests that Ga might be taken up via Al pathways in C. sinensis. The findings suggest that there are opportunities to explore Li and Ga phytomining on respective Li- and Ga-enriched mine water/soil/mine waste materials using halophytes and Al hyperaccumulators to complement the global supply of these critical metals.

Authors: Philip Nti Nkrumah, Antony van der Ent
; Full Source: The Science of the total environment 2023 Mar 10;162791. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162791.