Could bacteria really be useful for extracting resources from asteroids? According to two researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the answer is yes. Luis Zea and his colleague Jesse Colangelo of the Department of Geological Sciences have managed to obtain a loan to verify this possibility which, according to the scientists themselves, does not seem at all impossible.
Bacteria are already used here on Earth to extract copper and gold, as Zea himself points out, suggesting that the same method could also be used on asteroids. The process sees the positioning of the bacteria in the water together with the materials, substantially rocks, from which the desired materials are to be extracted. The specialized bacteria are able to extract the desired metals by performing a task similar to that performed by aggressive chemicals that are usually used to separate metals fro rocks, including gold.
And according to Tadg Forward, a molecular biologist who works at Zea project, it is not even more expensive. In fact, it would be cheaper: “Just add water and bacteria on the rocks and it yields a product.”
Researchers are examining the performance of Shewanella oneidensis to extract iron from rocks and in general environments that simulate the environments of the Moon, Mars and asteroids. Researchers are also trying to simulate the reduced severity of these environments.
The potential of these methods seems very promising as the financial potential of mining from asteroids, in general, seems enormous. Many asteroids are in fact “full” of metals that here on Earth are considered rare or difficult to extract. It is thought that future wars could be guided precisely by the need for these rare metals and being able to make a new type of supply truly possible could mitigate this risk, as reported by Zea himself.