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Low Carbon Emission Precious Metals Recycling Solution: Hydrometallurgy Metal Stripping Technology

By Korbin Lan
Published: Aug 01,2017

Although the United States maintains a different stance, as the curtain fell at the G20 summit, there was still a consensus that the Paris Agreement would continue to be observed, meaning that continuing to reduce carbon emissions will be an important policy consideration for governments around the world. Furthermore, all industries involved in burning coal, gas, and oil will adopt immediate measures in response. Otherwise, they will faced with heavy economic and political pressures, and traditional e-waste precious metals recycling is one of these industries.

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Global Carbon Emissions Regulations are Becoming More Stringent

The most direct influence caused by the G20's commitment of the “Paris Agreement” is to force every country's requirements and regulations of carbon emission will be more stringent.


In Mainland China, according to “Plan for the Control of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” published by the State Council of the People's Republic of China, the domestic carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP has been cut by 18% since 2015. In addition, non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride will also be more strictly controlled.


The plan also stated that by 2020, China will establish 50 low-carbon emissions demonstration projects with controlling peak carbon emissions and total carbon emissions as their key focus, and the pilot low-carbon emissions project will eventually be expanded to include test areas in 100 cities. Furthermore, low-carbon town pilot projects will also be expanded to include 30 towns.



Figure 1 :   The most direct influence caused by the G20's commitment of the “Paris Agreement” is to force every country's requirements and regulations of carbon emission will be more stringent.
Figure 1 : The most direct influence caused by the G20's commitment of the “Paris Agreement” is to force every country's requirements and regulations of carbon emission will be more stringent.

In addition, this plan also specifies that a national carbon emissions trading system will be established in 2017, and plans have been laid out for a national carbon emissions trading market to commence operations in 2017. By 2020 the establishment of the national carbon emissions trading market will have been flawlessly put in place, and it is possible that Mainland China will also adopt other measures such as the collection of carbon taxes and use more powerful means to promote low-carbon development.


In the European region, in order to achieve the specific goal of achieving carbon reduction, the European Union has established the European Union Emission Trading Scheme; EU ETS. In order to determine the specific timelines for CO2 emissions reductions, each nation that participates in the EU ETS will be required to meet EU greenhouse gas emissions trading order provisions and fulfill pledges to reduce carbon emissions as set forth in the Kyoto Protocol.


To date, the EU ETS has already entered the third phase (2013-2020) of its goals, and it is estimated that by 2020 the EU will pledge to cut carbon emissions by 20% (in accordance with 1990 criteria). In addition, the scope of industries committed to limiting emissions will be extended to also include the aviation industry, manufacturing, power generation, energy-intensive industries, and organic chemicals.


In Japan, in accordance with medium-term carbon reduction targets in the Kyoto Protocol, carbon emissions will be reduced 25% by 2020 (in comparison with 1990), and by 2050, the long-term carbon reduction target is a reduction of 80% from the levels in 1990. All Japanese industries will be subjected to these regulations.


The Recycling of Precious Metals Produces Large Amounts of Carbon Emissions

Unfortunately waste treatment and precious metals recycling industries also produce large amounts of carbon emissions, and there are no corresponding measures to reduce their carbon emissions, making this industry an exception to the trend.


Figure 2 :   The world's largest precious metals refinery, Umicore, recycles over 100 tons of gold.
Figure 2 : The world's largest precious metals refinery, Umicore, recycles over 100 tons of gold.

The carbon emissions from the handling of precious metals recycling are primarily from the use of incinerators and plasma furnaces. Traditionally, the handling of e-waste recycling entailed making use of burning methods to refine precious metals, such as gold and silver, and the e-waste scraps were first disassembled and broken apart. Afterwards the scraps would be fed into smelting furnaces at temperatures of up to 1,600 degrees Celsius, and the materials with value were burned. Finally chemical treatments were used to extract gold and silver from the ashes of alloy bricks.


However, utilizing this incineration method produces large amounts of exhaust gas which contains suspended particulates and carbon dioxide, both of which are hazardous to human health. If these materials are not properly handled, they will have extremely harmful effects on the Earth's atmosphere. In addition, firing up an incinerator consumes large quantities of gas and depletes the Earth's resources. The overall carbon footprint of these traditional methods adds to stress on the natural environment.


As another consideration, traditional recycling companies use highly toxic cyanide and aqua regia to decompose e-waste and refine precious metals, which is not only harmful to the environment but also puts people's health and lives at risk.


Taking Belgium as an example, the country boasts the world's largest precious metals recycling company (Umicore), where each year over 100 tons of gold are recycled. Over US$3.3 billion has been invested in the company; however, they still employ incineration methods to handle precious metals. Although they have established excellent waste and wastewater treatment facilities, they still consume large amounts of energy and produce large amounts of carbon emissions.


In Asia Japan is at the forefront of consciousness with regards to environmental issues; however, they also have yet to formulate a strategy to deal with the problem of carbon emissions produced through the handling of precious metals recycling. Currently, preparations for the 2020 Olympics are fully underway in Japan, and it is the first time that the gold medals will be made of 100% recycled gold. An estimated 42 kilograms of gold are recycled from mobile phones, and these are the raw materials that will be used to make the medals.



Figure 3 :   At the 2020 Olympics in Japan, and will be the first time that the gold medals will be made of 100% recycled gold. An estimated 42 kilograms of gold are recycled from mobile phones, and these are the raw materials that will be used to make the medals.
Figure 3 : At the 2020 Olympics in Japan, and will be the first time that the gold medals will be made of 100% recycled gold. An estimated 42 kilograms of gold are recycled from mobile phones, and these are the raw materials that will be used to make the medals.

Although the gold has been obtained from discarded mobile phones, the recycling procedure requires the use of plasma furnaces which consume large quantities of electrical power to carry out the incineration of the materials. Though the technology does not utilize oil or gas burning methods, it still produces similarly large amounts of carbon emissions while also consuming large amounts of resources.


Hydrometallurgy Metal Stripping Can Eliminate the Carbon Emissions Problem in Precious Metals Recycling

Hydrometallurgy is a superior solution.


Unlike burning methods which utilize electrical power or incineration to produce high temperatures, hydrometallurgy metal stripping solutions employ a soaking method at room temperature to recycle precious metals from discarded electronic boards. This procedure is safe, environmentally-friendly, and does not produce large amounts of carbon emissions.


In Taiwan, UWin Nanotech is currently the world's first provider of environmentally-friendly hydrometallurgy gold stripping solutions. This solution is non-toxic and does not produce harmful substances to human health or the environment. This solution can also be automated into an operating system with batch processing and is an excellent strategy for overcoming the problem of heavy carbon emissions currently being produced by precious metals recycling.


Kenny Hsu, Managing Director of UWin Nanotech, pointed out that the current handling of e-waste in every country involves crushing and incineration. However, this type of procedure produces dioxin, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5), and ash. Furthermore, after incineration, the metal alloy bricks still need to be processed in a solution to separate and purify the metals, and tin and aluminum cannot be recycled using this method. The overall procedure still requires large amounts of resources and produces large amounts of carbon emissions.



Figure 4 :   UWin Nanotech's hydrometallurgy metal stripping solution.
Figure 4 : UWin Nanotech's hydrometallurgy metal stripping solution.

Unlike burning methods, UWin Nanotech's uses their own patented automated equipment and hydrometallurgy environmentally-friendly metal stripping procedure, and by using techniques which do not harm the materials, they are able to quickly remove components and chips from the boards and properly classify them. Finally, precious metals, including gold, silver, copper, and tin are effectively refined individually.


Eco-Friendly Hydrometallurgy Metal Stripping Procedures Have Superior Recycling Results

This set of eco-friendly recycling procedures first uses the SnST-55A Tin stripper prescription to strip away tin through a soaking method, and it directly strips the tin plating from discarded boards, enabling the metal devices and wafers on the boards to be quickly removed. The next step is sorting, and following sorting the scraps undergo metal stripping in accordance with the properties of each of their raw minerals (for instance UW-860 is used for gold stripping, and UW-602 is used for silver stripping) in order to recycle the different metals.


Using UWin Nanotech's techniques, after tin stripping, twelve components, including CPUs, chips, capacitors, resistors, connectors and heat sinks can be separated from a ton of waste PC boards metal parts with a recycling value of approximately NT$84,000.


If three hundred tons are processed in a year, the amount of recycled gold amounts to 58kg along with 8.7 tons of tin and 13 tons of copper with a total value of approximately NT$7.4 million. Subtracting the investment costs for the prescriptions, which amounts to approximately NT$4.2 million, in one year this technology can yield NT$3.2 million and above.


Taking the iPhone 6 as an example, using the hydrometallurgy procedure to carry out sorting, prizes and medals such as gold, silver, copper, palladium, and tin can be recycled. Among those metals, gold, palladium, and silver have the highest value. This calculates to a recycling value of over NT$1.26 million (approximately US$42,000) for every ton of recycled mobile phones.


Low Carbon Emissions Automated Hydrometallurgy Large-Scale Recycling System: Barrel One

For recycling companies that need to process large quantities of waste materials, UWin Nanotech also provides the Barrel One automated platform for processing waste materials in large batches. It is an automated waste PCB board tin-stripping processing solution which is compatible with the SnST-55A environmentally-friendly stripping prescription. It facilitates the complete sorting of metal components in order to get high recycling value and purity while also retaining the tin and aluminum in the components.



Figure 5 :   The Barrel One platform has the capacity to reach a daily processing quantity (using an eight hour work day as an example) of two thousand discarded boards, weighing one ton
Figure 5 : The Barrel One platform has the capacity to reach a daily processing quantity (using an eight hour work day as an example) of two thousand discarded boards, weighing one ton

Barrel One is equipped with a tin stripping prescription with soaking and rinsing tanks as well as four materials handling tubes with volumes of up to 400 liters, and the procedure of prescription soaking and rinsing can be carried out in large batches.


The Barrel One platform has the capacity to reach a daily processing quantity (using an eight hour work day as an example) of two thousand discarded boards, weighing one ton. This makes it ideal for meeting the requirements of small to medium sized e-waste recycling companies.


In addition, the Barrel One's materials handling tubes processing procedures can be customized to meet the needs of all clients and satisfy the specifications and operating environments of different companies.


From another perspective, using the Barrel One platform is also beneficial for curbing carbon emissions. According to data from the Environmental Protection Administration, Executive Yuan in Taiwan, the total amount of carbon produced when using the Barrel One to carry out tin-stripping is far lower that the amount produced using traditional infrared to bake boards. On average, processing one ton of computer mother boards only produces 181Kg of Co2e, which is less than one-tenth of the amount produced by traditional methods. This makes the Barrel One the optimal solution for recycling companies to carry out carbon reduction and trading.



Figure 6 :   On average, processing one ton of computer mother boards only produces 181Kg of Co2e, which is less than one-tenth of the amount produced by traditional methods.
Figure 6 : On average, processing one ton of computer mother boards only produces 181Kg of Co2e, which is less than one-tenth of the amount produced by traditional methods.

Low Carbon Emissions Hydrometallurgy Recycling is the Mainstream of the Future

With increasingly stringent environmental protection regulations and restrictions, precious metals processing and waste materials recycling companies are faced with immense governmental and economic pressures and are being forced to adopt technologies that meet environmental protection requirements.


UWin Nanotech's hydrometallurgy environmentally-friendly metal stripping solutions are the top choice for these companies. They provide hydrometallurgy environmentally-friendly gold-stripping solutions which do not require incineration and eliminate pollution and hazards caused by incineration.


In addition, they also provide the automated bulk-handling Barrel One facilities, which enable companies to quickly upgrade to low-carbon emissions hydrometallurgy environmentally-friendly recycling procedures in order to respond to future requirements for global carbon emissions specifications.


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