The Royal Mint, the United Kingdom’s official coin producer, developed a mysterious technique to extract gold from electronic waste the last two years, preventing hundreds of kilograms of gold every year from ending up in landfills.
“We want to recover as much of the precious metals as we can from things which are currently waste,” says Hayley Messenger, a chemist specializing in sustainable precious metals. “Our focus is on doing this sustainably within the UK, using a process that’s effective at room temperature while producing a lot less greenhouse gas emissions than smelting.”
Only 20% of e-waste – also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment or WEEE – is adequately recycled, and 7% of the gold in discarded laptops and old mobile phones’ printed circuit boards is extracted. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2050, some 120 million tons of e-waste could be produced annually. The magic solution developed by Messenger’s team of chemists and chemical analysts and Canadian start-up Excir can potentially extract 99% of the gold from circuit boards. Later this year, a multi-million-dollar factory will open up where 90 tons of circuit boards will be processed weekly, recovering hundreds of kilograms of gold annually.