E-waste: Government grant opens door for precious-metal recovery

The Government has allocated £600,000 to help develop Britain's first 'plasma facility' which will recover gold, silver and platinum from electronic waste.

The new project will see around 98% of precious metals in electronics waste being recovered domestically

The new project will see around 98% of precious metals in electronics waste being recovered domestically

In the next five years, electronic goods containing £1bn of precious metals will be sold in the UK. That includes more than 600 tonnes of silver, more than 30 tonnes of gold, and more than three tonnes of platinum group metals.

At present, British handlers of electronic waste typically ship it abroad, where refineries extract base metals such as copper. Precious metal extraction is a by-product in this much larger process, leading to delays and reduced efficiency.

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 plasma smelting technology to be utilised by the plant is already used to extract the precious metals from catalytic converters found in cars.

The project - worth £1m overall - is set to open in mid-2016.

Lead by example

Graeme Rumbol, the CEO of Tetronics International, which is leading the project, said: "The British economy is missing out on a billion pounds simply because we are not recovering the value found in electronic waste in an efficient way.

"The grant from [Government-funded] Innovate UK will allow us to develop a demonstration facility, which we hope will lead to British companies being able to install the technology in future."

Recovering value for electronic waste has been a hot-button topic in recent weeks, with the Green Alliance detailing six ways in which manufacturers could reduce the vast environmental footprint of consumer electronics.

That report inspired edie to dig up ten crazy statistics about e-waste. Here's a teaser....

Brad Allen


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