A Bioleaching Process for Sustainable Recycling of Complex Structures with Multi-Metal Layers

Eva Pakostova, Anuradha Herath

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Industrial waste is accumulating, while primary metal resources are depleting. Bioleaching has been shown to be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to metal recovery from waste, but improved designs are needed for large-scale recycling. Metal components that are manufactured by electrodeposition over a mandrel can be difficult to recycle using conventional techniques due to their complex geometry and inner Ag coating. A sustainable biotechnology for separating Cu and Ag from waste electrodeposited components is presented. Two-step bioleaching experiments were performed, during which Cu was solubilized by Fe3+ regenerated by Acidithiobacillus (At.) ferrooxidans CF3 and a consortium of ten acidophilic Fe2+-oxidizers. High Cu recovery rates were achieved in agitated flasks (22 ◦C, pH 1.9), with At. ferrooxidans solubilizing 94.7% Cu in 78 days and the consortium 99.2% Cu in 59 days. Copper bio-solubilization was significantly accelerated in a laboratory-scale bioreactor (32 ◦C, 1 L air min−1) using the bacterial consortium adapted to elevated Cu concentrations, reaching >99.6% Cu extraction in only 12 days. The bioreactor was dominated by Leptospirillum and Acidithiobacillus, with their proportions changing (from 83.2 to 59% of total reads and from 3.6 to 29.4%, respectively) during the leaching process. Dissolved Cu was recovered from the bioleachates (containing 14 to 22 g Cu L−1) using electrowinning; >99% of the Cu was deposited (with Cu purity of 98.5 to 99.9%) in 3.33 h (at current efficiency between 80 and 92%). The findings emphasize the importance of a bioleaching system design to achieve economical separation of base and precious metals from industrial wastes. The presented technology minimizes waste generation and energy consumption. On a larger scale, it has the potential to contribute to the development of industrial recycling processes that will protect natural resources and contribute to the Net Zero target.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14068
Number of pages18
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license


  • bioleaching
  • acidophiles
  • iron oxidation
  • copper electrowinning
  • metal recycling


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