Researchers turn E-waste into gold by using Mushroom

Crack open your old phone, and you’ll find lots of circuits, but there is something more than that!

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a biological filter made of mushroom mycelium mats that could recover as much as 80 percent of the gold in electronic scrap. Gold adhered to the biosorbents, such as fungal and algae biomass, far better than when just chemical preparations were used, which typically recover 10 to 20 percent of the gold.

Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a filter made out of mushroom (mycelium) that can recover almost 80% of the gold from electronics. Usually, by using chemicals, only 10 to 20 % of gold is recovered. The Gold sticks to the fungal or algal biomass, which makes the extraction process easy. Each mobile consists of 40-60 different elements, and the extraction of gold is a difficult process.

For countless reasons, we don’t want all of those elements to return back to the ecosystem. Some of those elements are heavy metals, which could be harmful if they get into the groundwater, and some of them are environmentally threatening. And some, like copper, silver, and gold, are rare and valuable. (why is gold rare?) In addition to the environmental concerns, recycling of phones would keep the price of future electronics down.

The researchers’ main target was to recover gold in a less environmentally hazardous way, unlike the current methods of smashing, separating, and smelting. The first step was to break all the phones. The process mostly relied on organic chemistry and ionic liquids to dissolve the gold particulates and form new complexes. They have envisioned that one day they will create particular layers designed for recovering particular elements.

Fungi are a gentler scavenger of gold. The researchers first crushed the phones into a fine powder. The powder was then sieved and passed through the mycelium, which was chemically engineered to attract the gold.

Pulling the process for making the mycelium mats could allow them to recover other precious metals in e-waste. In fact, this is all a new twist old idea: mycoremediation. As natural decomposers, fungi are fantastic at breaking things down, like the goopy stuff from oil spills. And they can absorb toxic heavy metals, like lead, as they grow. Fungi seem poised to take over the world. Oh wait, they already did it.

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