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Scalable and selective gold recovery from end-of-life electronics



The rapid accumulation of end-of-life electronics around the world has a disastrous impact on the environment because much of this otherwise valuable resource goes to landfills. Electronic waste (e-waste) contains significant amounts of precious metals, in the case of gold (Au), far in excess of those found in natural minerals. Recovering these metals from e-waste provides a potential sustainable path, but current recycling routes are not yet up to the task. Here we show a photocatalytic process that allows for selective, efficient and scalable extraction of Au from different forms of e-waste. The dissolution takes no more than 12 h, and further reducing the leachate yields Au metal with purity up to 99.0%. In a large-scale setting, our system can treat 10 kg of e-waste for a single batch and recover 8.82 g of Au. By advancing precious metal recycling to a level closer to practical implementation, this work will contribute to a more sustainable future for electronics.

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Fig. 1: Elemental analyses of CPU pins.
Fig. 2: Photocatalytic selective dissolution of Au from CPU boards.
Fig. 3: Selectivity of the recovery method.
Fig. 4: Solvent evolution during photocatalytic dissolution.
Fig. 5: Proposed mechanism for the photocatalytic recovery of Au in MeCN–H2O solution.
Fig. 6: Wider applicability and large-scale utilization of the recovery method.

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Data availability

The data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and Supplementary Information. Source data are provided with this paper.


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This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2020YFA0211004), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (22176128, 22236005), Innovation Program of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (2023ZKZD50), Program of Shanghai Academic Research Leader (21XD1422800), Shanghai Government (22dz1205400, 23520711100), Chinese Education Ministry Key Laboratory and International Joint Laboratory on Resource Chemistry, and Shanghai Eastern Scholar Program. We thank the ‘111 Innovation and Talent Recruitment Base on Photochemical and Energy Materials’ (no. D18020), Shanghai Engineering Research Center of Green Energy Chemical Engineering (18DZ2254200) and Shanghai Frontiers Science Center of Biomimetic Catalysis.

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Authors and Affiliations



Z.B. and H.L. conceived the idea for the paper. H.S., Y.C. and Z.B. designed the experiments. S.G. performed theoretical computational analyses. H.S. carried out the experiments. Y.W., J.C. and X.W. helped with the sample characterization. H.S. and Z.B. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to discussing, writing and revising the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zhenfeng Bian.

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Nature Chemical Engineering thanks Hong Chen, Jianping Xie and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–7, Figs. 1–29, Tables 1–10 and references.

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Supplementary Video 1

The working principle of the equipment.

Supplementary Video 2

Actual device operation.

Supplementary Data

Optimized density functional theory atomic coordinates data.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 4

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 6

Statistical source data.

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Shang, H., Chen, Y., Guan, S. et al. Scalable and selective gold recovery from end-of-life electronics. Nat Chem Eng 1, 170–179 (2024).

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