Iron Cycling in Low pH Environments – Potential Application for the Recovery of Precious Metals from Industrial Waste

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:45 PM
E. Marie Muehe1, Thomas Helle2 and Andreas Kappler1, (1)University of Tübingen, Geomicrobiology, Tübingen, Germany, (2)Novis GmbH, Tuebingen, Germany
The use of many different precious metals (gold, platinum…) and Rare Earth Elements (lanthanum, neodymium…) in the production of electronic products is drastically increasing. To meet this demand, not only mining activities but recently also the recovery of these elements from industrial waste is in the focus of research. It has been shown that the application of extracting solutions with pH values lower than 4 lead to an economically feasible recovery of industrially precious metals. This abiotic extraction efficiency can potentially be increased by using microorganisms capable of dissolving more stable minerals at low pH.

In collaboration with industry, a waste incineration plant, and governmental authorities, we investigate the extraction and recovery of strategically important metals and Rare Earth Elements from industrial waste. We optimize the (bio)-geochemical conditions for the extraction of these elements. To this end, a variety of microorganisms are evaluated for efficient metal extraction. We focus on known laboratory cultures capable of oxidizing and reducing Fe minerals and S compounds. Additionally, unknown microbial communities able to increase the efficiency of precious metal extraction from the industrial waste are enriched from environments with comparable geochemical conditions found in the extraction solutions.