Yeast: The Unsung Hero in Recycling E-Waste Metals

Luca O'Connor May 17, 2024
Getty Images

A Breakthrough Solution: Hydrogel Casings

Yeast is well-known for its role in fermentation, but its capabilities extend far beyond brewing beer and baking bread. MIT researchers have discovered that yeast can also purify water by binding and absorbing heavy metal ions like lead, even at extremely low concentrations. Thanks to biosorption, yeast cells can effectively clean contaminated water. The potential is vast—one Boston brewery's waste yeast could theoretically treat the entire city's water supply. However, an initial challenge in 2021 was removing the yeast after it absorbed the toxic matter.

After three years of intensive research, a team of chemical, molecular, and aerospace engineers developed a solution using hydrogel casings made from polyethylene glycol (PEG), a UV light-sensitive polymer. This innovation allows the yeast to bind with heavy metals without escaping into the water, thus simplifying the removal process.

More for You