French researchers are using bacteria to 'mine' electronic waste


A company in France is turning to an unlikely source to extract 'rare earth metals' from electronic waste – bacteria.

The Geological and Mining Research Bureau in Orleans (BRGM) is using bacteria to dissolve the minerals found in electronic waste so they can then be recycled. 

This process requires less energy than more traditional ways of recycling electronics, which usually require high temperatures and pressure to dissolve the minerals.



"What we are trying to do is to use the very specific properties of certain micro-organisms found in the subsoil. These bacteria have very interesting properties because they can replace chemical reagents [a substance used to cause a chemical reaction]," Anne-Gwenaelle Guezennec, a scientific expert at BRGM, told AFP.

"Bacteria allow this process to be carried out at relatively low temperatures ... we don't need to be under pressure, so these are very robust processes and they are not very expensive economically," she added.

BRGM is also developing a way to extract the minerals from mine waste in Finland and New Caledonia, with the aim of not having to rely on imports alone for these rare metals, which mostly come from China. 

"This is almost our only alternative to make economies less dependent on Asian supplies," said Yannick Menard, head of the waste and raw materials unit at BRGM. 

Video editor: Natália Luz. 

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