Bioleaching: Researchers Extract Metals With the Help of Microorganisms

by | 10. Jul 2024 - 14:23 | Technologies

German project team on the way to emission-free mining of copper, indium, and zinc.

A research team from the TU Bergakademie Freiberg in Germany is developing new processes to extract copper, indium, and zinc without conventional mining – with the help of microorganisms. The concept, called bioleaching, is not entirely new, but the team employs a combination of two processes to create a novel one. In a low pH environment, the researchers let microorganisms dissolve the metals from insoluble sulfides. Afterward, a newly designed membrane filters the raw materials from the process water. According to the researchers, the technique results in low emission outputs and requires less energy inputs than traditional mining and pyrometallurgy processes.

The project is part of the “XTRACT” research project, which aims to find emission-free mining, conserve resources, and develop technologies to support the European Union’s climate targets. XTRACT is part of the EU-wide scientific research initiative Horizon Europe, the union’s central funding program for science and innovation with a budget of €95.5 billion.

Together with XTRACT partners, the team will test the method in multiple other mines in Europe. The press statement left open whether and when the method could be ready for wider usage.

Bioleaching – A Concept Seeking to Revolutionize Mining and Recycling

TU Bergakademie Freiberg has been studying bioleaching in multiple projects over the last few years. One project involves the filtering of wastewater from mines while leaving behind valuable raw materials—facilitated by microorganisms. Another employs bacteria to find environmentally friendly and cost-effective methods to extract the technology metal indium.

However, the German university is not alone in studying the effectiveness of bioleaching in mining. Scientists from the University of Nottingham and the Technical University of Denmark, for example, are working on a similar project, using the binding abilities of bacteria to recover critical raw materials from electric waste and other secondary sources.

Photo: Hangela via Canva

The Magnetics Show USA 2024 advert