Efficient and Safer Recovery of Gold from Electronic Waste

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have devised an efficient and more environmental method for recovering gold from old electronic equipment.

When electronics are improperly discarded, it not only means that the environment is polluted with lead, mercury, and other toxic substances but it also means the loss of a considerable amount of gold. And in the best-case scenario, current recycling practices rely on toxic chemicals to reclaim gold, thus still taking a toll on the environment.

The importance of this discovery could be considerable when one considers that as much as 7% of the world's gold is currently locked away in discarded electronic equipment, according to some estimates.

How it works

The researchers have developed a simple extraction method that they estimate could reclaim 300 tons of gold from electronic waste each year.

Printed circuit boards are first placed in a mild acid, which dissolves all their metal parts. An oily liquid containing the team's chemical compound is then added, which extracts gold selectively from the complex mixture of other metals.

It is hoped that the new technique will lead to large-scale recovery of precious metals. Reclaiming precious metals from electronic waste with more environmentally friendly methods could directly reduce the impact on the environment and save money. Furthermore, it would also help reduce the need for expensive and environmentally destructive mining and refining operations.

To read more about these researchers' work, see the news release as well as their published work in Angewandte Chimie.