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Developing Ni agromining on ultramafic land in Europe (Agronickel)

Serpentine (ultramafic) outcrops in Europe cover over 10,000 km2 and have a low-fertility and low-productivity, making them unattractive for traditional agriculture. Many of these areas are slowly abandoned by farmers, with rural exodus and landscape closure. However, ultramafic landscapes have potential to provide multiple ecosystem services and contribute to Europe’s goals towards insuring food security, production of renewable raw materials and renewable energy.

The idea of phytomining metals emerged in the 90s and the goal was to cultivate plants able to accumulate trace metals from metal-rich soils and transport them to the shoots (>1%), which could then be harvested as a bio-ore to recover highly valuable metals, e.g. nickel (Ni). More recently, the concept has evolved as an integrated chain from soil management to production of bio-sourced refined metal products. Nickel agromining can offer an eco-efficient alternative to classical pyro- or hydrometallurgical processes, as well as providing biomass for local energy production.

AGRONICKEL aims to implement agroecosystems which can lead to better soil resource efficiency and to offer a fully integrated, new agromining agriculture that could cover thousands of km2 in Europe and benefit local communities with sustainable rural development.

AGRONICKEL has identified the bottlenecks that need to be solved before agromining fully develops in Europe. Traditional agronomy has already been developed for the Ni-hyperaccumulator Alyssum murale but a move towards a more resource-friendly agriculture is needed. Work Package (WP) 1 aims to design a new agroecological agronomy for hyperaccumulator plants in combination with agronomic practices (such as co-cropping/rotations, organic amendments, or biotechnological tools). The use of the plant biomass has to be thought of in terms of an integrated cycle. Thus, three uses have to be designed in WP2: potential use of these crops for energy purposes, the design of a wide array of nickel products to avoid dependance upon a specific niche market, and the production of Ca- and K-rich by-products which can be safely recycled in agromining fields (according to regulations). The full array of ecosystem services will be determined and optimised in WP3 and 4 (Life cycle assessment) so that the agromining chain can bring full value to local economies (bioeconomy) and provide green sources of energy and strategic metals, as well as maintaining or ameliorating the fertility of ultramafic regions (lowering Ni toxicity, enhancing fertility).

Possible impacts concerning the use of local biodiversity, the exchange of gene pools, and pollination activities will be given full attention. The consortium associates the leaders of phytomining research in Europe and also includes one SME which has already started activity in this new promising field. Additionally, one SME and a start-up are ready to implement agromining using the technologies developed in


Prof. Guillaume Echevarria, 
INRA, France

Project partners:

CSIC, Spain

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna,

CNRS, France

Jagiellonian University, Poland

University of Tirana, Albania

Università di Firenze, Italy

Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Institute of Technology, Greece


14625 / i35