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This innovative new method hopes to extract precious metals from all types of junked electronics. - Photo: personal file

Electronic waste, a mine for precious materials

By: Agencia de Noticias UN

Junked computers, cell phones or TVs could be a gold, silver or copper mine, according to UN students, through a chemical process called hydrolysis.

Although there are companies devoted to the extraction of precious materials on an industrial scale, seven Mining College students have come up with a novel model. Unlike more traditional procedures, this one uses hydrolysis to extract these elements from disposed computer electronic boards.

The method consists of separating magnetic particles and polymers  through a chemical process, while searching for elements such as gold, silver or copper. These are obtained by lixiviating or extracting them from liquid components such as sulphuric acid.

Carlos Mario Suárez, a Mechanical Engineering student, explains that the procedure is known as hydrolysis where “liquids like sulphuric acid and cyanide extract metals, without leaving residues which neither affect the environment nor consume a lot of energy”. It is not performed from smelting as this could harm the environment.

Tomasa del Carmen Pavón, an Industrial Engineer states that the interest to do the project is due to the fact that in “Colombia  electronic waste management is something new; we know that these components have toxic and chemical residues that may be harmful to people”.

It’s been estimated that the country produces more than nine thousand tons a year of electronic computer waste. The Gestión de Residuos de Aparatos Eléctricos y Electrónicos (RAEE) in Colombia projects 0.5 kg per person for 2013. Therefore, students of the UN have devised this optimization strategy for materials which are generally disposed of, as a  recycling mindset hasn’t yet developed in Colombia.

According to the tests realized by the students, for each 100 grams of electronic boards up to  0.2 grams of gold, 0.1 of silver, 20 of copper, 2 of zinc and 7 of aluminum can be extracted. Additionally, this method may be applied to electronic boards of other electronic appliances such as washing machines, TV’s,  cell phones and laptops.

This innovative method was proposed during the Academic Open House put on by the Mining College. The creators of this innovation  are confident that in the future this strategy can be implemented on a full scale.

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