Recovery of Rare Earths, Precious Metals and Bioreduction of Toxic Metals from Wastewater Using Algae

  • Zainab S. Birungi
  • Evans M. Nkhalambayausi Chirwa
  • Na Shen
  • Maria Roestorff
Part of the Microorganisms for Sustainability book series (MICRO, volume 18)


For many decades, toxicity of metals has been recognised due to documented evidence in plants, animals, water and/or humans. Unlike toxic heavy metals which are relatively abundant, some metals are scarce and unevenly distributed in the earth crust. Rare earth elements (REE) are ranked as one of the most critical elements with a diminishing supply. In addition some heavy metals such as thallium are rare but widely distributed in very low concentration and listed under critical metals comparable to cadmium and lead. Advanced and cleaner technologies using biological materials serve as an efficient and complementary treatment method for dissolved toxic metals and recovery of precious and REE. Various living and dead organisms have been investigated for metal removal, e.g. bacteria, fungi, algae, yeast and industrial and agricultural waste. Phytoremediation using higher plant accumulators has been widely embraced for ecosystem restoration especially for long period of time. This can eventually promote industrial environmental sustainability and restore ecosystem functioning. Bio-adsorption technologies using dead organisms offer the opportunity for recycling in addition to being eco-friendly. The challenge is to select the most efficient biosorbents from the relatively abundant biomass. This chapter, therefore, provides an insight into the various bioremediation technologies currently being explored from our research group for microalgae for the treatment of heavy metals such as cadmium, thallium and chromium. In addition, recovery of precious and rare earth elements such as gold and lanthanum using various eluents is also discussed. Some of the challenges and way forward are highlighted in the conclusion.


Rare earths Precious metals Recovery Bioreduction Wastewater Algae 



The authors would like to thank the National Research Foundation under the innovative postdoctoral scholarship and Sedibeng Water, South Africa, for funding the research under the division of water utilisation, department of chemical engineering, University of Pretoria, South Africa.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zainab S. Birungi
    • 1
  • Evans M. Nkhalambayausi Chirwa
    • 1
  • Na Shen
    • 1
  • Maria Roestorff
    • 1
  1. 1.Water Utilisation and Environmental Engineering Division, Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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