Royal Mint plant will be ‘first’ to turn waste PCBs into gold
The Royal Mint is building the world’s first plant designed to recover precious metals, including gold, from discarded electronic devices such as mobile phones. When fully operational in 2023, the plant, at the Mint’s secure site in South Wales, is expected to process up to 90 tonnes of UK-sourced circuit boards every week – producing hundreds of kilograms of gold per year which the Mint can use to produce coins. The venture will support around 40 jobs, helping existing employees to reskill, as well as recruiting new chemists and engineers.
The 3,500m2 plant is using a patented chemistry developed by a Canadian firm, Excir, to recover the gold from the circuit boards in laptops and mobile phones. The PCBs are fed by a conveyor into a reactor. The resulting sludge is then separated, sorted and filtered to produce the reclaimed metals. The room-temperature process can recover more than 99% of the precious metals in electronic waste, selectively targeting the metals in seconds.
Each year, more than 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is produced globally, with less than 20% of it currently being recycled. The UK alone throws away more than 300,000 tonnes of electrical equipment and hoards another 527 million items each year. In theory, more than 95 tonnes of precious metals including gold, silver and palladium – worth around £857m – could be recovered from this waste every year.
“We are transforming our business for the future – expanding into areas which complement our expertise in precious metals, champion sustainability and support employment,” explains the Royal Mint’s CEO, Anne Jessopp. “Our investment in a new plant will see The Royal Mint become a leader in sustainably-sourced precious metals and provide the UK with a much-needed domestic solution to the growing problem of electronic waste.”
Sean Millard, the Mint’s chief growth officer, believes that “revolutionary” process “offers huge potential to re-use our planet’s precious resources, reduce the environmental footprint of electronic waste, and create new jobs.
The Royal Mint’s electronic waste processing facility will recover gold and other precious metals from electronic circuit boards
“We estimate that 99% of the UK’s circuit boards are currently shipped overseas to be processed at high temperatures in smelters,” he adds. “As the volume of electronic waste increases each year, this problem is only set to become bigger.”
The Royal Mint is working with Rockwell Automation, to design, build, and commission the new facility. Rockwell, which has a 15-year relationship with the Mint, is supplying a multi-million pound turnkey processing and distributed control system based on its PlantPAx technology.