Bacteria can recover precious metals from electric vehicle (EV) batteries, according to research from Coventry University.
This involves a process called bioleaching, whereby microbes extract valuable metals from ores as part of their metabolism.
The researchers claim this technique will provide a more environmentally friendly solution to recycling EV batteries and that it has been used effectively already to recover materials from electronic waste such as solar panels and circuit boards of computers.
Professor 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 is 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.”