Revolutionizing Gold Recovery: Scientists Harness Cheese Protein to Salvage Gold from E-Waste

Researchers have pioneered an innovative method for extracting gold from electronic waste, presenting a breakthrough that could yield significant returns. Utilizing protein sponges derived from the cheesemaking process, scientists have developed a sustainable and economically viable approach to recover precious metals from discarded electronic devices.

In their study, scientists demonstrated the remarkable efficacy of this method by recovering a 450-milligram nugget of 22-carat gold from just 20 old computer motherboards. The findings indicate that the procurement costs for source materials and the energy expenses for the entire process are substantially lower than the value of the gold obtained.

The process involves denaturing whey proteins under acidic conditions at elevated temperatures to create a protein slurry, which is subsequently dried to form a sponge-like material. Metal components from the electronic devices are dissolved in an acid solution, and a protein fiber sponge is introduced to attract gold ions selectively. While other metal ions may also adhere to the fibers, gold ions exhibit significantly higher affinity.

Following this, the sponge is heated to convert the gold ions into flakes, which are then melted down to produce a gold nugget. The resulting nugget, comprising 91 percent gold with the remaining percentage being copper, represents a substantial value extracted from electronic waste.

Published in the journal Advanced Materials, this groundbreaking method underscores the potential for sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in resource recovery. Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from ETH Zurich, a coauthor of the study, highlights the remarkable sustainability of the approach, utilizing a byproduct from the food industry to extract valuable resources from electronic waste.


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