World Coins

Royal Mint seeks to recover e-waste metal from phones, computers

Electronic waste is a growing problem, and opportunity, since most of it is not recycled. The Royal Mint has announced a partnership to recover metals from e-waste for coinage production.

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If the Royal Mint’s plans are successful, it could soon turn Apples and Androids and Dells into sovereigns and Britannias and even circulating coinage.

The Royal Mint on Oct. 20 announced that it signed a partnership with Excir, a Canadian-based technology startup, to recycle precious metals (and eventually base metals) from electronic waste.

The pioneering technology allows the Royal Mint to recover gold and other precious metals from discarded electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops.

The Royal Mint said the partnership would allow it to bring a “world first” technology to the United Kingdom.

Revolutionary technology

According to the announcement, Excir’s patented technology, based on revolutionary chemistry, recovers more than 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 “within seconds” — offering a new solution to the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.

Each year, more than 50 million tons 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 tons by 2030 — almost a doubling of tonnage in a decade, according to The Global E-waste Monitor 2020.

“Gold is used in consumer electronics because it is highly averse to corrosion and an excellent conductor of electricity,” according to a 2016 article in CNN. “Silver is actually the best conductor, but it corrodes easily. Copper is super-cheap, but it moves electrons too slowly for some of the most important computing tasks.”

The potential for the technology is huge, said Anne Jessopp, chief executive of the Royal Mint.

Trials at the Royal Mint have produced gold with a purity of .9999 fine, according to the announcement, and when fully scaled up, the process may also recover palladium, silver and copper, the Royal Mint said.

A market opportunity

Less than 20% of electronic waste is currently recycled worldwide; what is not being captured has a value conservatively estimated at $57 billion U.S.

Scientists and engineers at the Royal Mint are now working to expand 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.

A Canadian-government affiliated foundation, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, recently invested $5.4 million Canadian (about $4.3 million U.S.) in the company.

Jim Fox, chief executive officer of Excir, said the firm is excited to work with the Royal Mint “to scale Excir’s patented technology from laboratory to mass production over the coming years.”

A Royal Mint representative did not answer questions by press time Oct. 20 about the timeline for adopting the technology more extensively, and when coins and bars made from recovered metal might become available.

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