Fungi capable of recycling lithium batteries

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Fungi capable of recycling lithium batteries
© SectoR_2010 | Depositphotos.com

A group of researchers from the University of South Florida have discovered three different strains of fungi that can extract valuable metals from spent rechargeable batteries. Even though batteries in phones and cameras can be used for a long time – years, even – eventually they reach the end of their life; such batteries are normally collected separately and sent to a landfill. Lithium and cobalt inside the battery remain forever lost to us, while new lithium is constantly mined at relatively high costs. While there are chemical methods of extracting metals from batteries, they involve high temperatures and cause toxic emissions. However, as presented by professors Jeffrey Cunningham and Valerie Harwood at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, a different way may exist: extraction by fungi. The strains under study naturally produce acids than can leach metal, given that batteries are first dismantled and partially pulverized. This way, up to 85 per cent of lithium and 45% of cobalt can be leached. The metal, however, remains dissolved in acid, and so far the scientists have not found a way to extract it.