The REMADE Institute announced Aug. 24 a new technology license for a chemical process capable of recovering precious metals from used electronics more easily and cost-effectively. The innovation is part of a research and development project the institute has funded since 2020.
The R&D project to recover gold and silver, “Low-Concentration Metal Recovery from Complex Streams Using Gas-Assisted Microflow Solvent Extraction (GAME),” is led by Wencai Zhang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, and Aaron Noble, Ph.D., an associate professor in the same department. GAME uses three phases (aqueous, organic, and gas) to achieve an efficient separation in a confined microchannel.
In simplified terms, inside the microchannel, tiny bubbles filled with nitrogen gas and made of a special organic liquid mixture meet a dilute aqueous solution of gold and silver. Through chemical affinity, the gold and silver transfer from the water into the organic liquid of the bubbles. The gold and silver are next stripped out of the organic liquid to form a concentrated aqueous solution of gold and silver. Gold and silver metal are precipitated out of that concentrated aqueous solution using a strong base mixture.
Rochester, N.Y.-based REMADE’s tech team oversees the project, ensuring it meets the institute’s and the Energy Department’s technological milestones. The institute has several recycling projects supported by ISRI members. Lexington, Ky.-based ISRI member Phinix, LLC, is the industry partner on the GAME project.
Subodh Das, Ph. D., Phinix founder and CEO, said his firm is eager to partner with electronics manufacturers that want to recover precious metals like gold, silver, and palladium from their end-of-life personal computers (PCs). “Most of the 53.6 Mt [million metric tons] of e-waste produced globally [per year] are not recycled; only 9% is recycled in the U.S.,” Das says. Gold, silver, and copper are the most valuable recovered resources in electronics, he explains.
Congratulations on Success
REMADE CEO Nabil Nasr offered congratulations to the research partners. “A new technology license is a great accomplishment, and we believe it will be incredibly valuable to U.S.-based electronics recycling companies,” he says.
Precise details of the GAME hardware setup and the process are the subject of a pending patent and so are confidential. Phinix holds the exclusive intellectual property license. “This innovation is a potential boon to U.S.-based electronics companies, many of which are actively searching for ways to recover precious metals from their products,” Das says. “We can help these electronics companies recover and reuse these end-of-life resources and assist U.S. manufacturers in other industries interested in these recovered precious metals as well.”
Zhang, the R&D project’s principal investigator, said the research seeks to develop technologies to make it easier and more cost-effective to recover precious metals from personal computers (PCs), classified as electronic waste (e-waste). “The printed circuit boards found in PCs that have reached their end-of-life are among the most promising sources of gold and silver,” Zhang says. “We need to do everything we can to make it easier and cheaper to recover these critical minerals and enable manufacturers to reuse them.”
According to REMADE, typical PC motherboards contain 566 parts per million (ppm) gold and 639 ppm silver. The most common karat weight for gold used in computers is 10–18 carat, because of its conductibility and durability.
REMADE Chief Technology Officer Magdi Azer says the tech license is another milestone for the public-private partnership, which seeks to increase the reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, and recovery of four energy-intensive materials: metals, polymers/plastics, fibers/papers, and e-waste. “This particular R&D project is capable of developing technologies to increase the recovery of precious metals from e-waste, providing a valuable resource to U.S.-based electronics companies and other U.S. manufacturers, and as a result, increasing the resiliency of the U.S. supply chain and decreasing the nation’s reliance on minerals from other countries,” Azer says.
REMADE recently accepted its 150th member. Since its creation in 2017, REMADE has released five requests for proposals (RFPs) and has invested or allocated more than $85.6 million to 84 projects that it has either funded or selected for negotiation. REMADE is a Manufacturing USA® Institute, endowed with a $70 million investment from the Energy Department’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) over five years, which is matched by $70 million in cost share from its members.
The REMADE Institute is one of six AMO institutes focused on fostering collaboration within the clean energy manufacturing sector to enable manufacturing scale-up and help to develop national capabilities that enable future global leadership and workforce development in advanced manufacturing. The AMOs also seek to dramatically reduce embodied energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial-scale materials production and processing and to increase the supply and use of recycled materials.
Photo courtesy of Storyblocks.