Recycling and reuse of electronic wastes (e-wastes) are becoming an increasingly critical strategy for securing metal resources as well as for minimizing environmental impacts. Thiourea leaching of gold (Au) from e-wastes can be considered an alternative to highly toxic cyanidation, provided that its reagents consumption can be largely reduced. While awareness of the use of biohydrometallurgical techniques in metal mining industries is increasing, the knowledge on microbiological precious metal solubilization is still limited. This led us to investigate and clarify for the first time the potential utility of microbiologically-mediated thiourea leaching (TU-bioleaching) of Au, with a special focus on reducing the reagents consumption while facilitating Au dissolution. Initial screening tests found that different Fe-oxidizing bacteria/archaea possessed varying degrees of thiourea tolerance (5–100 mM). When thiourea and PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) co-exist, Acidiplasma sp. Fv-Ap displayed the most robust Fe-oxidation. The Eh level during the reaction was first optimized by fluctuating the initial ratio of thiourea to Fe3+ (TU:Fe3+ = 2:1–40:1, by using 1 mM Fe3+ vs. 2–40 mM thiourea). The ratio precisely determined the Eh level during the TU-bioleaching and dictated the fate of thiourea decomposition and the resultant Au dissolution from PCB. Microbial contribution to Fe3+ regeneration was seen to support steady and continuous Au dissolution, enabling 98% Au dissolution while using low reagent concentrations of 1 mM Fe3+ and 10 mM thiourea under the microbial Eh control at around 490–545 mV. This novel TU-bioleaching process offers a new alternative approach for Au recycling from e-wastes and minimization of environmental hazards.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Waste Management and Disposal