UK consortium seeks to recover precious metals from e-scrap

The consortium, led by Tetronics, will build a plasma arc facility in the United Kingdom.

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March 23, 2015

A consortium of United Kingdom firms that includes Tetronics International, Swindon, U.K., has announced a £1 million ($1.5 million) project that is targeting the recycling of obsolete electronics generated in the country. In addition to Tetronics, the other firms involved in the project are Metech Recycling (UK) Ltd. and the global mining concern Vale Europe.

Funding for the project has been helped with a £600,000 ($884,000) grant from Innovate UK, a government body that funds, supports and connects businesses to accelerate what it considers sustainable economic growth in the U.K.

Tetronics says the £1 million investment will be used to develop and demonstrate the country’s first integrated plasma facility to recover precious metals from electronic scrap. The facility is being designed to recover precious metals from e-scrap at a smaller and more localized scale than existing large centralized methods without the need for further types of refining.

The consortium estimates around 5.6 million metric tons of electronic products will be bought in the U.K. between 2015 and 2020. The components of these products are expected to include more than 30 metric tons of gold, more than 600 metric tons of silver and more than three metric tons of platinum group metals. If this material is recovered, the market value would total more than £1 billion ($1.5 billion).

British handlers of electronic scrap typically export obsolete electronics to a small number of large refineries designed to recover 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, according to Tetronics.

The U.K. consortium says it expects to see around 98 percent of precious metals in electronic scrap being recovered domestically.

The plant being developed is expected to open by the middle of 2016. The facility will use plasma smelting technology which Tetronics says is already being used to extract precious metals from catalytic converters and industrial catalysts.

“The British economy is missing out on £1 billion pounds simply because we are not recovering the value found in electronic waste in an efficient way, says Tetronics CEO Graeme Rumbol. “The grant from 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.”

Adds Rumbol, “Being awarded the grant highlights how Tetronics is at the very forefront of innovations in green technology and resource recovery.”

Ray Doran, Metech’s sales manager, says, “Metech Recycling is delighted to be involved in this innovative project. It gives us a national outlet for high value recovery material and maximizes a cost-effective approach to dealing with this type of material.”

Mike Cox, director of UK Operations for Vale Europe Ltd., says, “As a firm advocate of PGM recycling, Vale Europe Ltd. is pleased to be involved in the project of recovering precious metals from e-scrap and is looking forward to working with Tetronics and Metech Recycling.”