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Biomining: A Biological Approach to Recycling Elemental Components from End-Of-Life Electronics

  • Author(s): Urbina, Jesica
  • Advisor(s): Rothschild, Lynn J
  • Saltikov, Chad
  • et al.

End-of-life electronics waste (e-waste) containing toxic and valuable materials is a rapidly progressing human health and environmental issue. The glass and metals in e-waste components can be reused or recycled; however, developed countries tend to not recycle due to high labor costs and strict environmental regulation. Instead, e-waste accumulates in landfills or is exported to developing countries where valuable metals such as copper and gold are extracted using primitive techniques (i.e., open air incineration, acid treatment). Biotechnology however, shows promise as an emergent technology that would allow for an efficient approach to metal extraction at ambient temperatures and under non-toxic conditions. Our initial studies focus on the specificity of metal-binding proteins for a target metal. Since the chemistry and role of copper in biological systems is relatively well-characterized, we are using it as a proxy to elucidate metal and protein interactions with various metals in e-waste. This is an initial proof-of-concept study that focuses on Cu-binding; however, the overall objective of this research is to have engineered proteins that selectively bind many metals from e-waste and this would allow for the separation of the metals from a solution, at ambient temperatures and under non-toxic conditions.

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