Coventry University Discover Bacteria That Can Recover Metals From Old Batteries

The process is known as ‘bioleaching,’ and it could be the long term solution to recycling old electric vehicle batteries.

EV batteries are not all-powerful as you might think. Over time, their power capacity shrinks (or degrades) to the point where a replacement is required. The old battery is then thrown into landfill most of the time — which is problematic for several reasons.

These batteries might be useless once uninstalled from an EV, but who’s to say these packs can’t be useful in other ways?

Researchers from Coventry University’s Centre for Sports, Exercise and Life Sciences have come up with/developed a new environmentally friendly solution to recycling electric vehicle batteries.

The process is known as ‘bioleaching, otherwise known as ‘bio-mining,’ which is the act of covering an object in microbes to oxidise metals as part of their metabolism. Bioleaching has been used a lot in the mining industry, only now it’s finding new uses in a growing market.

“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.”
— Sebastien Farnaud, Professor of Bio-innovation and Enterprise

Recently, the act of Bioleaching has been used to clean up and recover materials from electronic waste — waste that includes: printed circuit boards of computers, solar panels, contaminated water and even uranium dumps.

More On This New Found Phenomena

Professor Sebastien Farnaud, along with colleagues in the university’s Bioleaching Research Group, identified that bacteria, including Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans and other non-toxic species, can target and recover the individual metals in EV batteries directly.

This single-handedly reduces the need for non-eco-friendly techniques which involve high temperatures or toxic chemicals.

Moreover, the metals gathered from old batteries can be recycled indefinitely back into multiple supply chains.

Farnaud states: “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?”

It’s no secret that there will be a lot of old batteries to come as EVs continue to replace combustion types. There will be a surge in demand for metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese in the coming years.

This is where Bioleaching could really come into the equation and do some good, providing the materials needed to craft hundreds upon thousands of EVs.

When an EV battery comes to the end of its life cycle, all the green benefits fade. Bioleaching could very well be the answer — one that helps out future generations. But what do you think? We want your thoughts on this.

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