What is the Most Valuable Metals from a Mobile Phone

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What is the Most Valuable Metals from a Mobile Phone

Post  juda on Wed Apr 11, 2012 1:28 am

In electronic waste (such as phones, computers, TVs ...) there are some very valuable and rare metals. In one phone can be a few milligrams, but when put together many different story. Specifically, 50,000 mobile (about 3.5 tons of these devices without battery), it can take approximately 350 kilos of copper, 400 grams of palladium, silver ten kilos or a kilo of gold. A kilo of gold bullion as the picture, which is valued at more than 40,000 euros. Where such materials recovered e-waste? There are recycling companies that separate Spanish major metals (steel, aluminum, iron ...), an issue resolved in principle, but do not draw these other even more scarce.
. "This is a sensitive issue", say from Indumetal Recycling, a Spanish company that is dedicated to the recycling of electrical and electronic equipment, where have these bits of metal that can not be separated are sent outside the metallurgical plants country to have recovered. Which ones? They do not give company names. They argue, this is a valuable information for business as gold or other metals contained in these critical residues.

In the past three decades, has more than tripled the number of different metals used in industry. Just on a personal computer may have 30 different kinds. However, some of them are rare or controlled by a few countries. As explained in the blog, this makes metals such as cobalt, antimony, gallium, indium, the platinum group, rare earth, tantalum are considered critical to Europe, especially for the development emerging technologies and "green" technologies (renewable energies, LED, batteries ...).

The recycling of these metals is key. However, this is not a question that is still far from resolved and there are not many companies in the world able to recover some of these materials from electronic waste with high purity. One of the most important is Umicore, a world leader in recycling of precious metals. At its plant in Hoboken (Belgium) treated more than 300,000 tons of 200 different types of waste, recovering 17 different metals: gold, silver, platinum, indium, cobalt ... Here are other facts. They are specialists in exploiting new modern mines, the waste. In the case of gold with a purity of 99.99%. As explained by Steven Art, one of the responsible recycling of precious metals in Hoboken, for every ton of material removed from a gold mine obtained about 5 grams of the precious metal per tonne of computer electronic boards that reach the Belgian plant will take about 150 grams. "These figures are indicative as they should be aware that electronic waste is a great mix and our expertise is important," stresses Art "can be much gold, but for that we must achieve critical mass: a kilo of gold, more than 40,000 euros a kilo, it is much clear that it requires 50,000 phones. "

If we analyze the composition of a mobile phone, you can find aluminum, plastic, silicon, but also copper, lead, nickel and to a lesser extent, gold, silver, palladium. This is not all, other metals are even smaller amounts. Of course, according to their percentage is reduced, less viable recovery. In Umicore are still able to make metals such as antimony and other non-ferrous metals in very small proportions. What about the niobium or tantalum (indicated by the strong impact of the exploitation of coltan in African countries)? "Tantalum is found in some very specific components and amounts actually reduced, we can not recover," says Art "Do not expect miracles either of the companies that are at the end of the recycling chain, the responsibility must also be shared by companies that collect the equipment and the dismount. " As he insists, the greatest challenge is to gather enough electronic waste to be worth extracting metals. This is not easy, especially with mobile phones, as many of them are donated or purchased after use for reuse in Asia or Africa (if not abandoned in drawers at home).

The economic factor is essential in deciding what is recovered, as seen with lithium-ion mobile. The batteries are one of the most delicate of such waste. In Umicore work with nickle hydride battery and lithium-ion: the first recover nickel and cobalt from the second. In addition, completely closes the recycling loop, then use these same metals that have been extracted to produce complex components used in the manufacture of new batteries. What about lithium on lithium-ion battery, one of the key elements for developing the electric car? "Technically, we can recover, is not a problem, but it makes no sense economically," said Sebastien Verwilghen responsible for rechargeable battery recycling plant in Belgium. "In Umicore we identify trends, one being the scarcity of raw materials, like cobalt. However, lithium is now considered a rare metal and mineral reserves that exist in Latin America, in the Salar de Atacama and Uyuni, are quite sufficient. We could not get an economic effect of its recovery. "

Umicore has customers in Spain. Which companies are sending e-waste here? "We prefer not to give that information," he answered in the Belgian company, which also reveal details of pyrometallurgical processes have been developed in Hoboken for the recovery of these materials.

Another group of metals from electronic waste not recovered today: the so-called rare earth (1). Although these materials (used in wind turbines, electric motors, light bulbs ...) are not really that rare, have become a key strategic piece to focus today its operating almost entirely in China. In this case, is the Rhodia group one of the most rapidly progressing in your recovery. At its plant in La Rochelle (France) and recycled industrial discards formulations with these metals, but in a few months expect to begin to recover rare earth equipment at the end of its useful life. "The waste amounts are not huge, but we can recycle heavy rare earths, which are unlike the light of which there are fewer mines outside China, recycling can be an alternative source of supply", say from Rhodia.

In Spain, rates of recovery of electrical and electronic equipment are still low. It does not help the irregularities in this specific sector of the waste, or the lack of transparency of what happens to some materials. In the case of mobile phones, according to Tragamóvil, the integrated management system responsible for collection and recycling of these devices in the country since the beginning of its activity in 2001 would have collected 5,210 tons (waiting to close data, 2011). The managers of this system does not provide specific data on number of phones and this tonnage may include accessories such as chargers, but it is clear that there exists a lot of gold and precious metals be removed.


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