Recycling of gold from electronics: Cost-effective use through ‘Design for Recycling’

Abstract

With over 300 tonnes of gold used in electronics each year, end-of-life electronic equipment offers an important recycling potential for the secondary supply of gold. With gold concentrations reaching 300-350 g/t for mobile phone handsets and 200-250 g/t for computer circuit boards, this “urban mine” is significantly richer than what is available in primary ores.

However, the “mineralogy” in scrap products is much different than in the conventional ores in a gold mine: Up to 60 different elements are closely interlinked in complex assemblies and sub-assemblies, and this requires specialised metallurgical processes with extensive offgas treatment to recover gold and a wide range of other metals cost effectively and in an environmentally sound way. Moreover, the logistics to “excavate” and “haul” the scrap products to the concentrator and further to the smelter are much more challenging than in the primary supply chain. Currently, only a small portion of old products is collected and directed into state-of-the art recycling chains. Significant improvements are needed here to fully utilise this secondary metal resource.

The importance of the gold content of scrap electronics to the economics of recovery of gold and many other valuable metals is not always appreciated and this impacts on the “design for recycling” approach in selecting materials for new products, particularly in the European Union where the WEEE Directive aims to provide a closed loop economy. With a lower carbon footprint than primary-mined gold, recycled gold represents an important “green” source. The challenges faced in recycling electronic scrap to achieve a closed loop economy are discussed.

References

  1. 1

    GFMS Ltd (2010),Gold Survey 2010, London (www.gfms. co.uk)

  2. 2

    Hagelüken, C., C.E.M. Meskers, (2008). “Mining our computers — Opportunities and challenges to recover scarce and valuable metals”, in: Proceedings of Electronics Goes Green Conference 2008, H. Reichl, N. Nissen, J. Müller, O. Deubzer (eds.), Fraunhhofer IRB, Stuttgart, 585–590

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Vanbellen, F., M. Chintinne (2008), “Extreme Makeover” — UPMR’s Hoboken plant”, World of Metallurgy —Erzmetall, Vol. 61, No. 1 2008, 14–19

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Chancerel, P., C.E.M. Meskers, C. Hagelüken, V.S. Rotter, (2009), “Assessment of Precious Metal Flows During Preprocessing of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment”,J. Indus. Ecol., vol.13 (5), 791–810

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Sander, K., S. Schilling, (2010), “Transboundary shipment of waste electrical/electronic equipment/electronic scrap — optimization of material flows and control”, Federal Environment Agency Report No. (UBA-FB) 1331, Dessau. Germany

  6. 6

    Puckett, J., L. Byster, S. Westervelt, R. Gutierrez, S. Davis, A. Hussain, M. Dutta, (2002), “Exporting harm — The hightech trashing of Asia”. Seattle: Basel Action Network

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Puckett, J., S. Westervelt, R. Gutierrez, Y. Takamiya, (2005), “The digital dump — exporting re-use and abuse to Africa”. Seattle: Basel Action Network

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Kuper, J., M. Hojsik, (2008), “Poisoning the poor: Electronic waste in Ghana”. Amsterdam: Greenpeace International

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Sepúlveda, A., M. Schluep, F.G. Renaud, M. Streicher, R. Kuehr, C. Hagelüken, A.C. Gerecke, (2009), “A review of the environmental fate and effects of hazardous substances released from electrical and electronic equipments during recycling: Examples from China and India”.Environ Impact Asses Rev (2009), doi:10.1016/j.eiar.2009.04.001

  10. 10

    Rochat, D., C. Hagelüken, M. Keller, R. Widmer, (2007), “Optimal recycling for printed wiring boards in India” R’07,World Congress - Recovery of materials and energy for resource efficiency. L.M. Hilty, X. Edelmann, A. Ruf (eds.)

  11. 11

    Schluep, M., C. Hagelueken, R. Kuehr, F. Magalini, C. Maurer, C. Meskers, E. Mueller, F. Wang (2009): Recycling — From e-waste to resources, StEP study report commissioned by UNEP, July 2009 (www.unep.fr/scp/ publications/details.asp?id=DTI/1192/PA)

  12. 12

    Rochat, D., W. Rodrigues, A. Gantenbein (2008), India: Including the existing informal sector in a clean e-waste channel. Proceedings of 19th Waste Management Conf., Durban, 477-483 (www.ewaste.ch/files/Rochat_2008_ WasteCon.pdf)

  13. 13

    Hagelüken, C., (2007), “The challenge of open cycles”. R’07 World Congress — Recovery of materials and energy for resource efficiency. L.M. Hilty, X. Edelmann, A. Ruf (eds.)

  14. 14

    Nokia (2008), “Global consumer survey reveals that majority of old mobile phones are lying in drawers at home and not being recycled”, (press release, July 8). Helsinki: Nokia Corporation

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Semi (2010),Semiconductor Industry Opinions Concerning the Selection of Bonding Wire Material, Semi market survey, January 2010

  16. 16

    Hagelüken, C., C.E.M. Meskers, (2010), “Complex lifecycles of precious and special metals”, in: Graedel, T., E. van der Voet (eds):Linkages of Sustainability. Strüngmann Forum Report, vol. 4. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 163–197

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Additional information

This paper has been adapted from the Plenary Lecture presented by Christian Hagelüken at GOLD 2009, Heidelberg, July 2009

Christian Hagelüken heads the department for business development & market research in Umicore’s Precious Metals Refining business unit. Previously, he has held various management positions in the precious metals department of Degussa AG which gained him over 20 years experience in (precious) metals recycling. He holds university degrees in mining engineering and industrial engineering from RWTH Aachen, Germany, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1991. He published books on “Materials Flow of Platinum Group Metals” and on “Automotive Catalysts” and has made numerous contributions to professional books, journals and conferences on topics related to recycling and sustainable resource management. Christian represents Umicore in related associations, work groups and university co-operations. He is among others a contributor to the UNEP-OECD Resource Panel, and to the Raw Materials Initiative of the European Commission

Christopher Corti is Managing Director of his consultancy, COReGOLD Technology, and was formerly Managing Director, International Technology at the World Gold Council. He was Editor of Gold Bulletin 1996-2009 and Chairman of the Gold conferences held in Vancouver (2003), Limerick (2006) and Heidelberg (2009). He obtained his PhD in metallurgy from the University of Surrey and had a career in research and its exploitation at Johnson Matthey plc, the Department of Trade & Industry, Brown Boveri et Cie, Switzerland and the CEGB in the UK. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining and a Chartered Engineer. He has published widely on the science, technology and applications of gold.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under an open access license. Please check the 'Copyright Information' section either on this page or in the PDF for details of this license and what re-use is permitted. If your intended use exceeds what is permitted by the license or if you are unable to locate the licence and re-use information, please contact the Rights and Permissions team.

About this article

Cite this article

Hagelüken, C., Corti, C.W. Recycling of gold from electronics: Cost-effective use through ‘Design for Recycling’. Gold Bull 43, 209–220 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03214988

Download citation

Keywords

  • Mobile Phone
  • Precious Metal
  • Valuable Metal
  • Electronic Scrap
  • Global Sale