In early March a consortium of UK firms launched what seems a potentially ground-breaking project to help unlock the value found in discarded electronic products, such as phones, TVs and even toasters.
In relation to a £1m project, Tetronics and partners Metech Recycling and Vale Europe have received a £600k grant from Innovate UK, the Government body which funds, supports and connects innovative businesses in research to accelerate sustainable economic growth for the UK.
The £1m will be used to develop and demonstrate the UK’s first integrated plasma facility for the sustainable processing of electronic waste to pure precious metal. Once up and running, it will recover precious metals found in electronic waste including Platinum Group Metals, gold and silver at a smaller and more localised scale than existing large centralised methods without the need for further types of refining.
It is estimated that in the UK around 5.6 million tonnes of electronic products will be bought between now and 2020. The components of these products are expected to include more than 30 tonnes of gold, more than 600 tonnes of silver and more than three tonnes of Platinum Group Metals – when recovered this would have a total market value of more than £1.0bn.
At present, British handlers of electronic waste typically ship it abroad to a small number of large refiners, which are designed for the recovery of base metals, such as copper. As a result, precious metal extraction is a by-product in a much larger process, leading to delays in recovering the metal and reduced precious metal recovery efficiencies. The new development will enable localised waste processing opportunities in the UK and will allow independence from the large refiners. It will also see around 98% of precious metals in electronics waste being recovered domestically, which can be sold on for use in new products.
The plant being developed by Tetronics and its partners, which is set to open in mid-2016, will use proven plasma smelting technology as part of an integrated process dedicated to the recovery of precious metals from electronic waste. The technology is already seen as industry-leading in extracting the precious metals from catalytic converters found in cars and from industrial catalysts used to make petrol. This grant will allow a dedicated plasma furnace for electronic waste processing to be built in the UK.