Florida's fungi method extracts metals from batteries

United States: To most of us, the word ‘fungi’ does not spark any thought of innovation. And yet researchers at the University of South Florida in the USA claim it may be essential to establishing an eco-friendly recycling process to extract cobalt and lithium from tons of waste batteries.

The unusual project has seen the research team dismantle the batteries and pulverise the cathodes before exposing the remaining pulp to the fungus. ‘Fungi naturally generate organic acids, and the acids work to leach out the metals,’ explains Jeffrey Cunningham, the associate professor who supervised the work. ‘We are aiming to recover nearly all of the original material,’ he adds.

Results to date show that up to 85% of the lithium and up to 48% of the cobalt can be extracted using the fungi’s oxalic and citric acids. The strains of fungi used in the project are Aspergillus niger, Penicillium simplicissimum and Penicillium chrysogenum.

After ‘fungal exposure’, the metals remain in a liquid acidic medium, says Cunningham. The research team is trying to figure out the best way to retrieve the two elements from the liquid.

The research project has received funding from the National Science Foundation.

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