A new gold rush?

Many millions of tonnes of televisions, phones and other electronic equipment are discarded each year, despite them being a rich source of metals. But now e-waste mining has the potential to become big business.
Professor Veena Sahajwalla’s mine in Australia produces gold, silver and copper – and there isn’t a pick-axe in sight.
Her “urban mine” at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is extracting these materials not from rock, but from electronic gadgets.
The Sydney-based expert in materials science reckons her operation will become efficient enough to be making a profit within a couple of years.
“Economic modelling shows the cost of around $500,000 Australian dollars (£280,000) for a micro-factory pays off in two to three years, and can generate revenue and create jobs,” she says.
“That means there are environmental, social and economic benefits.”
In fact, research indicates that such facilities can actually be far more profitable than traditional mining.
According to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a typical cathode-ray tube TV contains about 450g of copper and 227g of aluminium, as well as around 5.6g of gold.
While a gold mine can generate five or six grammes of the metal per tonne of raw material, that figure rises to as much as 350g per tonne when the source is discarded electronics.
The figures emerged in a joint study from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Macquarie University, in Sydney, where academics examined data from eight recycling companies in China to work out the cost for extracting these metals from electronic waste.
Expenses included the costs of waste collection, labour, energy, material and transportation, as well as capital costs for the recyclers’ equipment and buildings.
And when these costs – and the effects of Chinese government subsidies for recycling – were taken into account, the team found that mining from ore was 13 times more expensive than e-waste mining.
“The mining of e-waste, and production of pure metal ingots from it of copper or gold, promises to be a very profitable business,” said Macquarie’s Prof John Mathews.
“The earliest practitioners are likely to be metals specialists, particularly small entrepreneurial firms who are aware of the scale of the e-waste problem.”

Source: BBC

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