Botanickel: using plants to extract nickel

Alyssum murale flourishes in soils often inhospitable for cultivating traditional crops. Photo: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Using plants to extract nickel from soil and then turning that nickel into stainless steel may sound like science fiction, but that’s exactly what Botanickel is doing.

Text by Aperam

Aperam, a global producer of stainless steel, and Econick, a spin-off of France’s University of Lorraine that specialises in the phytoextraction sciences, have formed a joint venture. Called Botanickel, the company seeks to become a world leader in the responsible and sustainable production of bio-sourced nickel for the stainless steel industry. To accomplish this goal, the company is leveraging the incredible power of hyperaccumulator plants.

Botanical power in action

Hyperaccumulator plants are unique because they can grow in specific metalliferous soils that are often inhospitable for cultivating traditional crops. These plants have developed the ability to safely accumulate extraordinarily high amounts of heavy metals in their aerial parts, including cobalt, cadmium, manganese, zinc, and of course, nickel. Dr Claire Hazotte, Manager at Econick, explained: “Over the years and by working with leading experts from around the world, Econick has accumulated a high level of expertise in the cultivation and treatment of nickel-hyperaccumulator plants. The benefit of our close collaboration with Aperam is it ensures we will significantly contribute to the switch towards a new, eco-designed mode of producing metals at large scale and in the long-term.”

Taking sustainable stainless steel to a whole new level

Botanickel: using plants to extract nickel
Botanickel will leverage the Alyssum murale plant’s hyperaccumulator capabilities to extract the metal from the soil.

With nickel being a key raw material in the production of stainless steel, Botanickel will leverage the Alyssum murale plant’s hyperaccumulator capabilities to extract the metal from they soil. The native plants will be cropped in soils that are naturally rich in nickel and allowed to grow to full maturity. Once harvested, the plants are dried, and their energy is recovered and used by local communities. Nickel is then concentrated and transferred to Recyco, Aperam’s European recycling unit initially dedicated to recovering and treating the metallic content from melting shop dusts. Botanickel’s process also generates by-products that can be used as high-value fertilisers, exemplifying its commitment to the circular economy.

Biosourced nickel done right

Botanickel’s activity is designed to meet the needs and challenges of a world well aware of the limits of planetary resources, around an innovative value chain that is environmentally friendly and creates shared values over the long term. Botanickel’s innovative, circular and bio-sourced nickel production process is the outcome of decades of research at the University of Lorraine, which is globally renowned for its role in developing the field of phytoextraction. As a pioneer in using plants to extract nickel, Botanickel aims to become a reference in the production of bio-sourced nickel and, in doing so, bring an unprecedented level of circularity and sustainability to the production of stainless steel. Involving local communities across the entire value chain is at the heart of Botanickel’s strategy. It is developing opportunities in research, education, training, employment and energy production that are aligned with local priorities.


Native hyperaccumulator plants, cultivated in accordance with the principles of agroecology, will improve soils that are naturally inhospitable to common crops while also preserving the local environment and protecting biodiversity. Driven by an urgent need to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Botanickel will have the potential to massively reduce the CO2 emissions associated with the production of ferronickel and thus Aperam’s stainless steels (Scope 3).

“We aim to set the global standard in the sustainable production of biosourced nickel, with a value chain spanning from the plants in the ground to the stainless steel used in a plethora of products and solutions. More so, we want to do this with respect for the climate, the environment, and the local communities we operate in.” 

Tim di Maulo, CEO Aperam

About this Featured Story

This Featured Story appeared in Stainless Steel World April 2023 magazine. To read many more articles like these on an (almost) monthly basis, subscribe to our magazine (available in print and digital format – SUBSCRIPTIONS TO OUR DIGITAL VERSION ARE NOW FREE) .

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