The researches are focussing especially on lithium, since there is a high demand while mining new lithium resources is not sustainable. There are other methods to extract metals from batteries, but they require high temperatures and harsh chemicals. The new process is environmentally safe and also cheap, since the fungi grow naturally.
After dismanteling the batteries and pulverising the cathodes, the scientists expose the remaining pulp to three different strains of fungi. “We selected these strains of fungi because they have been observed to be effective at extracting metals from other types of waste products”, project team leader Jeffrey A. Cunningham explains. The fungi then generate organic acids that leach out the metals. Cunningham says they expect to recover nearly all of the original material. First results show that up to 85 per cent of the lithium and up to 48 per cent of the cobalt were extracted. In the next step the scientists have to the the metals out of the acid.
The project is presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.