A huge amount of the technology we use today relies on rechargeable batteries, but a breakthrough involving the humble fungus could mean lithium and cobalt is extracted from the ones we throw away.
A new process developed by a group of scientists headed up by Dr Jeffrey A.Cunningham is hoping to stop old batteries being stuck in landfill or even incinerated by using fungi to extract the metals.
"Fungi naturally generate organic acids, and the acids work to leach out the metals," Cunningham explains.
"Through the interaction of the fungus, acid and pulverized cathode, we can extract the valuable cobalt and lithium. We are aiming to recover nearly all of the original material."
Cheap source of labor
Cunningham refers to the Fungi as a 'very cheap source of labor' and the team will now turn their attention to the next stage of the process - getting the lithium and cobalt out of the acid created.
"We have ideas about how to remove [them], but at this point they remain ideas," he says. "However, figuring out the initial extraction with fungi was a big step forward."
Lithium is very much in demand as the need for batteries in our devices grows, so getting the process right solves an increasing problem, and by using a natural process the environmental damage is lessened.