A local scientist whose business uses plants to remove metals from contaminated soil has been named as one of the UK’s top 50 female game changers and one of the top three in Wales.

Dr Lorna Anguilano’s company Phyona, uses the root systems of plants to recover metals from contaminated soil, transforming it into high-value metal nanoparticles whilst returning the contaminated land back to health.

Pioneering research led by Lorna at Brunel University London has developed an extraction and synthesis processes that recover metals from contaminated soil and other substrates. The metals are then converted into high-value nanoparticles for use in manufacturing.

Phyona uses natural plants and tries to use indigenous plants as much as possible to achieve this.

Lorna, from Newcastle Emlyn, is one of only three women in Wales to be awarded one of Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards.

As such she will benefit from a £50,000 grant, one-to-one business coaching, and a suite of networking, role modelling, and training opportunities.

Lorna’s academic career has taken her from studying Earth Science at the University of Milan to a PhD in mineralogy and archaeometallurgy at University College London. Then, at Brunel University, London she established her research passion in material recovery and waste stream upcycling.

“I really enjoy visiting ancient mines – the landscape is almost lunar,” she said. “A variety of lichens and mosses grow on abandoned soils that are full of contamination.

“The idea is to utilise the capacity of plants that survive in these environments as a tool for metal recovery and to switch the view of these sites from contamination to resources.”

Lorna launched Phyona to create a commercial application for her research. The company uses native plants to remove metals from soil contaminated by activities such as mining, then harvests the plants, extracting valuable metals and improving the quality of the soil.

Lorna may be a scientist but it’s an interest in people that drives her research. “Researching technology and developing innovations to solve global challenges is also a way to bring experiences and expertise together,” she said. “It improves the quality of our lives and increases respect for our planet.”


Looking to take this technology and this business as far as it can reach, she reflects: “The biggest barrier to overcome is the fear to enter and be comfortable and confident in a men dominated sector such as engineering. I believe we (as women) are our biggest enemies and fear stops us from standing up and trying.”

The Innovate UK awards recognise women who are developing novel solutions to major social, environmental and economic challenges.

“I felt so happy when I received the email for the award and I also felt very humbled, I felt I had the responsibility of representing all women as I was fortunate enough to have achieved this milestone,” said Dr Anguilano.

“The award will give myself and my company a great opportunity to grow technologically and as a business.”

Dr Anguilano will also use the award to hold community days where students from different universities as well as with community members will be able to see the science in action.

“I plan to be at the sites when community days are planned in order to give hands on opportunity with as many people as possible,” she said. “The opportunity to spend time as role model is actually great.”

Coinciding with International Women’s Day today, Wednesday, March 8, the Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards reflect the government’s ambition to give more support to women innovators and business leaders.

Now in its sixth year, the competition drew a record number of 920 applications from women business leaders, 10 per cent up from last year, reflecting the growing number of women-led businesses in the UK.

“Emily Nott, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Programmes at Innovate UK said: “Each year I am blown away by the brilliant ideas and talent we uncover through our Women in Innovation programme.

“Despite these challenging economic times, this year’s winners have shown great leadership, passion and resilience in driving their innovations forward Secretary of state for Wales David TC Davies added: ”It is fantastic to see the UK Government providing funding and practical help to support women innovators who have so much potential to grow their businesses and be a force for change in their chosen industries.

“Huge congratulations to Lorna on her achievements. I’m delighted that her talents have been recognised by this award for innovation. The ideas are as diverse as they are ground-breaking and will have a great impact beyond Wales’s borders.”


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