Scientists from the United States have shown that there are safer methods for mining copper. For example, bacteria can convert copper sulfate ions to metallic copper.
The researchers explained that copper remains one of the most demanded metals for the production of objects in everyday life. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity in wires, roofing, and plumbing, and as a catalyst in petrochemical plants, solar and electrical conductors.
However, the metal mining process often leads to toxic effects and problems in the recovery of significant volumes of copper for commercial use. The Copper Development Association Inc. estimates that there are about one billion tons of copper in the world, of which about 12.5 million metric tons are mined annually.
Part of the supply problem stems from the limited availability of copper in the earth’s crust. At the same time, during mining and smelting, people are exposed to sulfur and nitrogen dioxide.
In their work, scientists have shown that there are alternative methods of copper mining. For example, bacteria can convert copper sulfate ions to metallic copper.
Research results show that the new conversion process can be an alternative to the production of single copper atoms. It is safer and more efficient than existing methods such as chemical vapor deposition, sputtering, and femtosecond laser ablation.
“So far we have worked with only one bacterium, but perhaps not only it performs a similar function,” the scientists note. “The next step in this research will be to extract copper from these cells and use it for practical applications.”