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Project Overview


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Green chemistry and sustainability of metal supply are fundamental concepts for many industrial flow-sheets. Green chemistry is a strategy that exploits waste to manufacture products with minimal effect on the environment. Metals, on the other hand, are a finite elemental resource and their ‘sustainability’ is a function of how they are being dispersed throughout the technosphere. Metals are not running out, but their recovery and reuse is challenging and costly.

Phytocat is a multidisciplinary response to the global need to recycle metals from waste. Phytocat is a research collaboration led by the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York (UK) with Biology at the University of York, and Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia (Canada). Phytocat uses plants to create high-value and industrially-important compounds. This is an area of traditional NZ strength. Massey University scientists in New Zealand have used plants to extract metals such as nickel and gold from soil for over 30 years. Otago and Massey Universities in New Zealand offer innovative and world-leading spectroscopic techniques to understand the form and function of these biological structures.

New Zealand and Canada innovation and expertise can promote development of the UK Phytocat workplan. Massey Otago and the University of British Columbia’s integration with Phytocat creates an opportunity for new idea and capability building to stimulate growth UK R&D sector. Phytocat will generate and characterise products that can be manufactured from nickel-rich plants. Preliminary data show that nickel will catalyse the synthesis of high-value platform molecules that can be used as building blocks for functional chemicals. NZ and Canada will provide Phytocat with nickel-rich biomass and work with York partners to characterise and assess the value-proposition of the products. Looking forward, NZ, UK and Canada will participate with ongoing Phytocat R&D and commercial operation, while exposure to world-leading technology innovation from the University of British Columbia will stimulate advances in the quality of NZ, UK and Canada science outputs.