Researchers at the University of Coventry have established a new method to use bacteria to recover precious metals from electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
The method, called bioleaching, also known as bio-mining, uses microbes to oxidise metals as part of their metabolism.
The bacteria and other non-toxic species can target and recover the individual metals in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. These purified metals constitute chemical elements, and so can be recycled indefinitely back into multiple supply chains.
The process has been widely used in the mining industry, where micro-organisms are used to extract valuable metals from ores.
Sebastien Farnaud, said: ‘Most of the world’s lithium lies under the Atacama Desert in South America, where mining threatens local people and ecosystems. Instead of mining new sources of these metals, why not reuse what’s already out there?
‘Lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled at a meagre rate of less than 5% in the EU and most batteries that do get recycled are melted and their metals extracted.
‘These plants are expensive to build and operate and require sophisticated equipment to treat the harmful emissions generated by the smelting process. Despite the high costs, these plants rarely recover all valuable battery materials.
‘Bioleaching, on the other hand, can offer a more sustainable and effective solution to recycling electric car batteries.
‘These findings come at a critical time, as the pressure to manufacture EVs in line with the UK government’s plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 is expected to cause a surge in demand for metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese.’
In related news, late last month, Air Quality News spoke to Professor Sebastien Farnaud, to find out just how bad our growing mountain of electric waste (e-waste) is and what we can do to tackle it.
Photo by Ralph Hutter