INCREASED world-wide consumption of metals, diminishing land-based ores and increased levels of legislation are encouraging mineral extraction companies to develop environmentally friendly techniques for exploring alternative metal resources.
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have discovered that a common marine organism can help extract valuable metals from deposits lying on the ocean floor.
Deposits lying on the bed of the Indian Ocean have high levels of metals used in construction applications and the research team discovered that spent growth medium from fully grown cultures of the marine organism Bacillus M1 can help leach out high percentages of these metals.
They include copper, used in the production of cables and wires; cobalt, often found in paints; and nickel, one of the materials used in the production of stainless steel.
According to the research team as much as 45 per cent cobalt, 25 per cent nickel and 25 per cent copper can be extracted from the deposits in solution at room temperature when processed with the Bacillus M1 leachate.
And this rate rockets when a multiple stage process is used, with as much as 85 per cent cobalt and 60 per cent nickel solution from the nodules.
Ashok Raichur, project researcher at the Indian Institute of Science, claimed the new process could be used to leach ores of copper and manganese and to recycle batteries.