Technology developed in Japan uses microbe-filled capsules to cheaply and quickly recover rare earth metals contained in industrial wastewater
A new technology has been developed in Japan by Morishita Jintan and Mitsubishi that uses microbe-filled capsules to cheaply and quickly recover rare earth metals contained in industrial wastewater. If realized, this would be the first full-scale, commercial use of microbes to recover rare metals in Japan, something that is reportedly quite rare worldwide. Industrial wastewater from factories that use rare metals to manufacture electronics parts, automobiles and other products often contains trace amounts of the metals. Recovering these dregs could contribute to the efficient use of this precious resource. Morishita Jintan developed the recovery capsules, which are two-three millimeters in diameter, based on technology the firm uses in its bifidobacteria supplements. The capsules, which contain high concentrations of microbes, are put into an apparatus 1.9 meters long, 1.4 meters wide and 1.9 meters tall. This device is then incorporated into a factory’s drainage facilities. When wastewater passes through the device, microbes inside the capsules capture the rare metals. These dregs are later removed and burned, leaving behind rare metals the capsules had absorbed.
Morishita Jintan and Mitsubishi plan to begin selling or leasing the equipment they developed to factories nationwide this fiscal year, with the aim of selling the product overseas someday. Currently, recovery of rare metals from industrial wastewater requires the use of chemical substances. Since such processes are expensive and can pollute the environment, most rare metals in industrial wastewater are not retrieved.