There’s a decade-old cell phone… an iPod from 5 years ago…. a laptop from the year 2000. Amongst the spaghetti bowl of all electronic waste, what is the value in e-waste scrap really?
It could be pretty high, actually. A United Kingdom consortium has established a mission of precious metal recovery from electronics scrap and estimates that the market value of the recovered material could bank at more than $1.5 billion.
In the spring of 2015, a business consortium led by Tetronics—a hazardous waste treatment and resource recovery company—proposed the development of the country’s first-ever integrated plasma facility intended for turning trash into gold: recovering precious metals from electronic scrap.
Alongside Tetronics, stands two other companies, Metech Recycling and Vale Europe, who will help to master the $1.5 million demonstration project. To help, the group is backed by an $884,000 grant from Innovate UK, a government body that helps to support, fund and connect innovative businesses in research when the acceleration is predicted to provide sustainable economic growth.
According to the consortium’s estimates, a total of close to 5.6 million metric tons of electronic products will be purchased in the U.K. between 2015 and 2020, as noted in Recycling Today.
Today, most of the electronic scrap metals are shipped off to a small, select number of large refineries that primarily focus on recovering base metals versus precious metals. (For example, the base metal copper.) As a result, actually recovering the precious metal becomes inefficient, irrelevant or delayed. Alternatively, the consortium wants to develop a refinery that prioritizes the recovery of precious metals and exists on a smaller, more localized scale. As intended, that’ll not only create a more efficient, successful process of precious metal recovery but also refocus business locally.
All of the pieces, innards and components of those e-products (the ones that are reaching customers during the formerly mentioned 5-year span) are constructed of an estimated 30 metric tons of gold, more than 600 metric tons of silver and more than three metric tons of platinum group metals. That’s a bit more than the tooth fairy hands over. Ultimately, the hope and goal is to recover close to 98 percent of the precious metals that’s recoverable from that domestic pile of electronic waste. Once recovered, those materials can be sold and go back into the production cycle.
The U.K. consortium aims to open the plant in one year, by the middle of 2016. The precious metals will be extracted byway of plasma smelting technology. For example, the technology has the ability to extract precious metals from the catalytic converters of vehicles or the industrial catalysts that are used to make petrol. As a company with a large wing in the recycling industry General Kinematics is excited to see how the project unfolds—and how we may get involved!