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Fungi recycle rechargeable lithium-ion batteries

August 21, 2016

Fungi recycle rechargeable lithium-ion batteries

PUBLIC RELEASE: 21-AUG-2016
AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 21, 2016 -- Although rechargeable batteries in smartphones, cars and tablets can be charged again and again, they don't last forever. Old batteries often wind up in landfills or incinerators, potentially harming the environment. And valuable materials remain locked inside. Now, a team of researchers is turning to naturally occurring fungi to drive an environmentally friendly recycling process to extract cobalt and lithium from tons of waste batteries.

The researchers will present their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

"The idea first came from a student who had experience extracting some metals from waste slag left over from smelting operations," says Jeffrey A. Cunningham, Ph.D., the project's team leader. "We were watching the huge growth in smartphones and all the other products with rechargeable batteries, so we shifted our focus. The demand for lithium is rising rapidly, and it is not sustainable to keep mining new lithium resources," he adds.

Although a global problem, the U.S. leads the way as the largest generator of electronic waste. It is unclear how many electronic products are recycled. Most likely, many head to a landfill to slowly break down in the environment or go to an incinerator to be burned, generating potentially toxic air emissions.

While other methods exist to separate lithium, cobalt and other metals, they require high temperatures and harsh chemicals. Cunningham's team is developing an environmentally safe way to do this with organisms found in nature -- fungi in this case -- and putting them in an environment where they can do their work. "Fungi are a very cheap source of labor," he points out.

Read more at EurekAlert!

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