• Sweet Alyssum, a flower proposed for the Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) project
    Sweet Alyssum, a flower proposed for the Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) project

Two of the many environmentally unfortunate outcomes of industrialization are polluted soils and the large overburden of mining. It is therefore uplifting to learn that scientists at the University of Warwick have initiated a way to address both problems at once, by the simple act of planting flowers. 

In a £3 million research effort entitled "Cleaning Land for Wealth," the Warwick Manufacturing group will use common flowering plants such as the Alyssum to purify toxic earth while simultaneously producing nanoparticles of sought-after elements such as platinum and arsenic for industrial use. “The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make," said lead University of Warwick researcher Kerry Kirwan in a press release. "This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments, and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size, and functionality they need without subsequent refinement. We are also expecting to recover other high value materials such as fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants, etc. from the crops during the same biorefining process." 

Although the CL4W project faces the steep challenge of demonstrating the timely delivery of its target nanoparticles at industrial scale, this effort nevertheless inspires new thinking about alternative ways in which resources may be harvested, and how such methods may be directly linked to environmental remediation efforts.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.