The UK’s Royal Mint (TRM) has announced plans to build a new plant in Llantrisant, South Wales, to recover gold from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).Construction of the plant has started and, when fully operational in 2023, expects to process up to 90 tonnes of UK-sourced circuit boards per week, generating ‘hundreds of kilograms’ of gold each year.
Last October, the company announced that it had acquired the technology to recover gold and other precious and rare earth metals from discarded electronics, such as phones and laptops, from Canadian company Excir (see CN October 2021).
Excir claims that its sustainable precious metal technology can recover 99% of gold from e-waste. Up to 7% of the world’s gold may be contained within the circuit boards of this waste. The UN puts the figure of e-waste produced each year at 50 million tonnes, and growing. Less than 20% is recycled, with the remained being incinerated or going to landfill. Of that 20%, the majority is smelted in high temperature furnaces, which consume considerable energy as well as toxic chemicals.
The Excir technology is based on a patented chemistry that selectively targets and extracts precious metals from circuit boards and turns it into a gold rich liquid in seconds, all at room temperature. Using precipitation, the gold can be recovered from the liquid and turned into ingots, which TRM will then use in its own products.
The new plant will be located within TRM’s secure site, to provide a stream of gold directly into the business. One new business opportunity already announced by TRM as a result of the technology is a partnership with Quintet Private Bank to offer bars made from recycled gold as an exchange-traded commodity (see CN March 2022).
According to Anne Jessop, TRM Chief Executive, ‘we are transforming our business for the future – expanding into areas which complement our expertise in precious metals, champion sustainability and support employment. Our investment in a new plant will see The Royal Mint become a leader in sustainably sourced precious metals and provide the UK with a much-needed domestic solution to the growing problem of electronic waste.’
TRM isn’t the only organisation in the UK, however, to be offering solutions to e-waste.
GAP Group and technology firm Descycle have announced plans to build a joint ‘multi-million pound’ WEEE recycling facility, using a ‘novel clean technology’ based on a class of chemistry known as ‘deep eutectic solvents’ to recycle metals e-waste. It will have the capacity to recycle 5,000 tonnes of printed circuit boards and other ‘high value’ waste per year. Construction is set to begin by 2024 and the facility should be operational within 12 months of when the build starts.
Elsewhere, last year IT lifecycle services specialist N2S trialled using bacteria to recover precious metals, a process developed in partnership with Coventry University, while New Zealand start-up Mint Innovation has unveiled plans for a commercial refinery which similarly uses bacteria to extract precious metals from WEEE.