A novel method that uses bacteria to mine valuable minerals from the ocean has been developed. Nodules collected from the Indian Ocean seabed can be treated to extract scarce land-based minerals in an environmentally sound way, says research published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology.
Using the marine species Bacillus M1, Cobalt, Copper and Nickel can be extracted from the nodules at a near neutral pH and room temperature. In a single four-hour process, 45% Cobalt and 25% of both Copper and Nickel can be extracted and dissolved in solution.
Unlike traditional methods, the new process uses no acids or harmful chemicals. By using a multiple stage process, the metal dissolution can be further enhanced to leach nearly 85% Cobalt and 60% Nickel solution from the nodules.
There is an increasing domestic consumption of valuable metals across the globe, but land-based resources are becoming harder to source. The new process could also be used to leach ores of Copper and Manganese, and used in the recycling of batteries.
"We are looking into the application of this process for recycling of various metallic waste," says Ashok Raichur, researcher on the project at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Society of Chemical Industry. April 2004.