Computers and iPhones don’t go to heaven. Instead, 80 percent of US electronic waste ends up in landfills or incineration furnaces. Materials scientist Victoria Chernow thinks that science will be able to change that. She says there might be a way to salvage the more than five pounds of gold, nearly 2,000 pounds of copper, and 55 pounds of silver hidden in a haul of 100,000 smart phones—using microbes. Basically, synthetic probiotics that act as tiny garbage collectors.
Chernow is a fellow at the Advanced Research Projects-Energy, an agency created by the Bush administration in 2007 that got its inaugural $400 million budget during the stimulus package in 2009. Its mission is to incubate disruptive energy technologies—like Darpa, but for energy instead of the military. President Trump’s proposed budgets for 2018 defunded ARPA-E. But in the spending bill Trump signed on Friday afternoon, ARPA-E got a budget bump, up to $353.3 million up from $306 million in 2017.