Royal Mint to recover precious metals from e-waste

The Royal Mint has signed an agreement with a Canadian tech start-up, Excir, with a view to introducing a new technology to the UK. This will allow the Mint to retrieve and recycle gold and other precious metals from e-waste.

Each year, more than 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced; it is the world’s fastest growing waste stream and set to increase to 75 million tonnes by 2030 unless there is an intervention.

Less than 20 per cent of e-waste is recycled, rendering it a significant environmental challenge. This category of waste contains materials like lead, cadmium and other heavy metals, which can be harmful to the environment and the communities (disproportionately in the Global South) charged with handling it.

However, e-waste also contains gold, silver, copper, palladium and other valuable metals conservatively valued at $57bn (£41bn) by the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor report. These resources tend to be discarded rather than collected for treatment and reuse.

The Royal Mint is partnering with Excir to use its process to extract and recycle gold and other precious metals from e-waste. According to the start-up’s website, its technology recovers more than 99 per cent of gold from circuit boards in a matter of seconds. It is also developing a process for transforming the “entire makeup” of e-waste – precious metals, base metals and plastics – into consumer products.

“We are immensely proud to partner with Excir to bring this world-first technology to the UK,” said Anne Jessopp, CEO of the Royal Mint. “It provides us the opportunity to make a genuine impact on one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges while helping to secure our future as a leader in high quality, sustainable precious metals.

“This partnership represents a significant milestone for the Royal Mint, as we reinvent for the future as the home of precious metals in the UK. The potential of this technology is huge – reducing the impact of [e-waste], preserving precious commodities, and forging new skills which help drive a circular economy.”

Scientists and engineers at the Mint will work to grow the technology from lab scale to mass production. According to a statement: “Instead of [e-waste] leaving UK shores to be processed at high temperatures in smelters, the approach will see precious metals recovered at room temperature in the Royal Mint’s site in South Wales”.

Initial use of the process by the Mint has produced gold with purity 999.9. When scaled up, palladium, platinum, silver and copper will also be recovered from circuit boards.

Excir CEO Jim Fox commented: “The team at Excir feel extremely fortunate to be working alongside the Royal Mint to scale Excir’s patented technology from laboratory to mass production over the coming years. Their 1,100 years of expertise in precious metals and innovation, coupled with a desire to foster new skills and benefit the environment, made them the ideal partner for us.”

Sean Millard, chief growth officer at the Royal Mint, added: “The Excir technology complements our ambition to be a leader in sustainable precious metals. The chemistry is revolutionary and capable of recovering precious metals from electronic devices in seconds. It offers huge potential for the Royal Mint and the circular economy, helping to reuse our planet’s precious resources and creating new skills in the UK.” 

Last year, the Royal Mint revealed a set of gold bullion coins incorporating high-tech new anti-counterfeiting measures, including a hologram-like image and surface animation of rolling waves, etched with advanced picosecond lasers more typically used in medical technologies and aerospace.

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