Chester, UK C-Tech Innovation, which is working to improve the recycling of electronic circuits, has been given a grant of £111 000 to test their technology on an industrial scale in a 15-month project.
The award is one of 21 projects receiving a total of £3 million in government/industry investment as part of the Department of Trade and Industry's BIO-WISE Programme, which encourages UK manufacturing and service companies to realise the economic and environmental benefits of biotechnology. BIO-WISE demonstrator projects have received just under £9.5 million since 1999.
Announcing the awards, Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Sainsbury, said, “Turning new ideas and innovation into jobs and prosperity is crucial to maintaining the strength of the UK's economy, and our leading position at the cutting edge of technology.”
Currently, it is very expensive to smelt down the electronic circuit boards of old computers and mobile phones to remove the metals for re-cycling. C-Tech Innovation has developed a cost-effective way of dissolving metals from circuit boards, removing first the solder, then the copper, and finally the precious metals. This kind of technology will particularly be needed in two years time when an EC Directive comes into force which makes producers of electrical and electronic equipment responsible for recycling their products.
The companies BETSCRAP project is developing two approaches to the challenge of recovering metals fully and efficiently. One route sequentially strips off solder tin and lead using a patented fluoroboric acid based leach, and then copper with cupric chloride. Metals are recovered via electrochemical recovery which regenerates leachants for re-use.
An alternative route utilises the ability of microwave energy to assist the leaching process and hence achieve faster and less aggressive leachant conditions than conventional processes. In each case precious metals are then recovered by a bio-electrochemical reactor which utilises the properties of sulphur metabolising micro-organisms to recover precious metals in either crop amounts or new nano-scale forms, with the potential for novel catalytic applications.
The sequential selective removal and recovery of metals provides solder metals in high purity which are more valuable and the chemical leachants are completely regenerated producing a lower environmental impact. The process provides a more rapid extraction of precious metals
The technology was co-developed by C-Tech Innovation, the University of Birmingham, and Alchema under a one year Demonstrator project jointly funded in part by the DTI's BIO-WISE programme and The Onyx Environmental Trust through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. The project developed a pilot scale version of the process, which sequentially extracts solder metals, copper and precious metals from waste printed circuit boards with previously unattainable selectivity.
“The ability to selectively recover tin and lead from solder separately from circuit copper adds value to all three streams for the recycler,” said Ged Barlow, C-Tech's managing director. C-Tech previously developed the patented selective leaching technology at the heart of the process with Cambridge University and Alpha-Fry.