Aspergillus niger is part of everyday life but it could become the real star of the future. The filamentous fungus is the black mold that forms on rotting fruits and vegetables.
Like Penicillium simplicissimum, which also develops also on food and decaying vegetation, and Penicillium chrysogenum, which is found in damp interiors – it has the ability to extract metals in discarded lithium-ion batteries – which with the surge in the number of smartphones and the development of hybrid and electric cars is the cause of a significant amount of pollution.
This is the amazing discovery made this summer by the University of South Florida team of scientists led by Jeffrey A. Cunninghamand Valerie Harwood. The fungi are simply sprayed on the battery cathodes whereupon they naturally generate organic acids capable of recovering up to 85% of the lithium and 40% of the cobalt.
Besides the considerable recycling opportunities it brings, this discovery has the advantage of using a natural method – those currently used to separate lithium cobalt require high temperatures, use aggressive chemicals and are costly too.