R&D Project of Metallic Elements Utilization

Efficient recovery and usage of useful metallic elements without imposing a load on the environment

Chemical synthesis has brought us a variety of useful materials through the development of various catalysts. However, many of the metals used in catalysts are rare and expensive, and Japan depends on imports of most of them.

The R&D Project of Metallic Elements Utilization is aiming to boost the functionality of special metals and reduce the amount of metal catalysts needed. At the same time, we are working to develop novel highly active and selective catalysts by using readily available and inexpensive metals.

On the other hand, it is important to recover and reuse the valuable metals that lie “buried” in our “urban mines.” We aim to promote technology transfers to recover useful metal resources efficiently without burdening the environment, by using mosses and other plants and microorganisms. This technology will also contribute to bioremediation of metal-contaminated soil and water.

We sift through diverse biological functions and elements, searching for those that can contribute to the environment and resources, and transfer this knowledge to industry.

Zhaomin Hou

Project Leader

Zhaomin Hou


Metals are used, in a wide range of forms, in the products that surround us. However, some of them are very rare, and some are harmful to living organisms. In order to achieve a sustainable society, humanity must find substitutes for the rare elements and find ways to reduce their use by recycling.

We aim to boost the functionality of metal catalysts, and at the same time develop new catalysts with higher performance and lower cost. To this end, we have been promoting joint research with private companies into our discovery that a certain kind of moss accumulates high concentrations of lead. We also found that this moss absorbs gold to form a gold colloid in its tissues.

We are researchers in basic science as well as specialists in discovering new phenomena of organisms and clarifying their mechanisms. With this project, we hope to find useful functions in metal recovery and environmental detoxification from a variety of biological functions and put them to use. Also, it might improve our ability to accumulate metals efficiently by adding a scientific approach. Organisms can be unwieldy and difficult to work with, and at first at least, will not be profitable compared with existing metal recovery technologies.

However, for humanity to survive we must inevitably move away from our oil-consuming society and toward one that uses sustainable biological resources. Microorganisms and plants are used naturally for metal recovery and environmental detoxification. We want to create a stepping stone to the realization of such a society.