Whey to Gold: A New Method From ETH May Have the Answer to Reclaiming Gold From Old Circuit Boards

Whey to Gold: A New Method From ETH May Have the Answer to Reclaiming Gold From Old Circuit Boards

Fri, Mar 1st 2024

Zurich researchers are trying to recycle electronic waste using whey proteins, transforming cheese by-product into a gold-extracting sponge.


Researchers at the University of Zurich have succeeded in extracting gold from electronic waste using a new method. This method is based on a protein fiber sponge made from whey, a by-product of cheese production.

In addition to copper and cobalt, old computers and smartphones also contain small amounts of gold. However, previous processes for recovering the precious metal were energy-intensive and often required highly toxic chemicals.

This new developments is efficient, inexpensive. They have developed a sponge made from a protein mesh produced from whey.

By denaturing whey proteins at high heat and using acid proteins, nanofibers form a gel. This dried gel is used to obtain the sponge.

A Mini-Nugget Made From Old Circuit Boards

To retrieve the gold from the electronic waste, they dissolve the old metal in acid so that the gold is present as ions. The researchers then place the protein sponge in a metal ion solution so that the gold ions are deposited on the fibers. According to the ETH, other ions also accumulate on such a sponge, but gold ions are the most efficient.

In an experiment with twenty old computer circuit boards, the researchers used the whey sponge to extract a 22-carat gold nugget weighing 450 milligrams. The next step for the ETH researchers is to develop the technology to market maturity.

Time will tell if this technology will ever make it’s way to market. Whether or not the economics of circuit board acquisition to gold output makes sense as a business model; is yet to be seen. It’s defiantly a fun idea, and gaining valuable resources back from discarded products is certainly a noble goal.


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