Mobile-recycling bacteria star in the new #looopers episode featuring researcher Toni Dorado

Toni Dorado holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and a doctoral degree in Natural Resources and Environment from the UPC. He is linked to the Department of Mining, Industrial and ICT Engineering and the Manresa School of Engineering (EPSEM) since 2005. He conducts research in the Biological Treatment of Odours and Gaseous Pollutants (BIOGAP) and the Smart Sustainable Resources (SSR-UPC) research groups.

His research is focused on tackling air pollution with biotechnological techniques. He has developed a method for bioextracting metals from e-waste, called Bioextraction of Metals from Disused Electronic Equipment (BIOMETALLUM), which received the 2018 Business Development Initiatives Award and the award for the best patent within the 2018 UPC Research Valorisation Awards, organised by the University’s Board of Trustees. BIOMETALLUM is an R&D&I project currently funded by the “la Caixa” Foundation that had been previously supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Knowledge Industry Programme of the Government of Catalonia.

Microorganisms found in wastewater are capable of separating metals from electronic waste through a process known as bioleaching, which is cheaper and cleaner than traditional processes and helps recover precious metals such as gold, silver and copper. Researcher Toni Dorado, a professor at the UPC-EPSEM, unveils the secrets of this technology in a new episode in the #looopers series on YouTube.

Dec 11, 2019

Smartphones contain more than 40 elements of the periodic table, mainly heavy metals that are highly valuable due to its high conductivity. They can be recovered and reused as raw materials for manufacturing new products. However, only 20% of the 40 million tonnes of e-waste generated worldwide every year are recycled, with its consequent impact on the economy and nature.

Now, a group of researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) on the Manresa Campus have developed a new biotechnology process for recovering metals from electronic devices in a much simpler way than using traditional, highly expensive and polluting industrial processes. The key are some bacteria that can be found in natural spaces. The researcher who is leading this study, Toni Dorado, a professor at the Manresa School of Engineering (EPSEM), explains it thoroughly in the new video in the UPC’s science outreach series #looopers, which is entitled “Mobile-Eating Bacteria”.

What do mobile-eating bacteria do?
In bioleaching, bacteria grown in the laboratory are subjected to certain conditions of temperature, pH and salt concentration. When in contact with the electronic boards of devices, these microorganisms can obtain the food that they need to live and reproduce. As a result of this process, metals are dissolved and can be later recovered from the resulting liquid by putting them in contact with steel shavings to get them back to their original metallic state and put them to new use.

Once the cycle is over, in about six hours, the bacteria are put in contact with electronic components again to start a new process —a quick, simple and low-cost technique that can be used to recover metals from other types of e-waste, such as televisions or fridges.

Science outreach on YouTube
The video “Bacteris menjamòbils” (Mobile-Eating Bacteria) is the fourth episode in the #looopers series, a space created by the UPC that aims to disseminate the scientific and technological knowledge generated in the University’s areas of knowledge and to encourage STEAM vocations (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics).

In the videos, which are especially aimed at teen audiences, UPC teaching and research staff explore topics of interest that are related to the University’s areas of knowledge. This series has released the episodes “Nanoquè? Nanosatèl·lits!”, featuring Carles Araguz, “Inteligencia artificial: el futuro que viene”, featuring Raúl Benítez, and “Python, com evitar que et hackegin el mòbil”, featuring Marta Tarrés.