Metal Recovery : The Royal Mint brings world first sustainable precious metal technology to the UK

The Royal Mint metal recovery
© Royal Mint/Huw Evans Agency

The Royal Mint, the historic producer of coins for the UK and other countries, has signed an agreement with Canadian clean tech start up Excir to introduce a world first technology to the UK, which will enable it to safely retrieve and recycle gold and other precious metals from electronic waste.

Excir’s patented technology recovers 99%+ of gold from electronic waste, contained within the circuit boards of discarded laptops and mobile phones. The chemistry selectively targets and extracts precious metals from circuit boards in seconds - offering a new solution to the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.

Each year, more than 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is produced globally, equivalent in weight to 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2. If nothing is done, this is set to reach 74 million tonnes by 2030 – almost a doubling of tonnage in a decade.

Less than 20% of electronic waste is currently recycled world-wide. This means that gold, silver, copper, palladium, and other highly valued metals conservatively valued at US $57 billion - a sum greater than the gross domestic product of most countries - are mostly discarded as opposed to being collected for treatment and reuse.

Scientists and engineers at The Royal Mint are now working to grow the innovative technology from laboratory scale to mass production. Instead of electronic waste leaving UK shores to be processed at high temperatures in smelters, the approach will see precious metals recovered at room temperature at The Royal Mint’s site in South Wales. Initial use of the technology at The Royal Mint has already produced gold with a purity of 999.9, and when fully scaled up, the process has potential to also recover palladium, silver and copper.

Embracing the principles of a circular economy, The Royal Mint and Excir technology has the potential to ensure electronic waste is handled in a controlled and regulated manner – preserving natural resources for longer, helping to reduce the environmental impact of e-waste and fostering new skills and employment in the UK.