Whey-based Airgel helps recover high-purity gold nuggets from electronic waste – for example used computer motherboards. This was done by Swiss scientists. The results of the study were published in Advanced Materials.
E-waste, i.e. used electronic equipment, often contains large amounts of gold and other heavy metals. Although there are chemical methods to recover it, they are not environmentally friendly.
The new gold rush?
A team of scientists from Switzerland has developed a method to recover gold from electronic waste using a milk-based airgel. To do this, the researchers extracted nano-sized protein fibers from whey, added a chemical acid to bind them together, and then froze the material. In the next step, it was heated, resulting in the formation of airgel, a type of solid foam with a very low density.
Motherboards used in computers were coated with this substance and then dissolved in a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid. The researchers found that the airgel absorbs gold ions. After drying and burning the airgel, the scientists were able to extract entire gold nuggets with a purity of more than 90 percent, equivalent to 22 carats. The rest of the mass was mostly copper.
Scientists confirm that the described process is the best example of sustainable use of products. However, despite achieving a satisfactory rate of 90 percent. The purity of the raw material cannot be compared with the effects obtained using purely chemical methods.
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“Because the whey gel also absorbs other metals, such as copper, it makes gold less useful in some applications,” Jason Love, a chemist at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, told New Scientist.
Don't do this at home
Scientists warn against dissolving electronic devices yourself in strong chemical acids. They stress that this is a dangerous process that may emit highly toxic fumes.
More information in the source article: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.202310642
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