Critical Raw Materials

The EU LIFE funded Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) Closed Loop Recovery project delivered a series of collection and recovery trials that considered the impact of collection on reuse and recovery potential on WEEE and critical raw materials it contains. 

Enscape Consulting worked in partnership with Re-Tek and the University of the West of Scotland to develop novel collection and recovery schemes to maximise the re-use of ICT.  Items that were unsuitable for reuse (e.g. due to age or specification) were diverted into the recovery scheme.  The team collaborated to develop laboratory scale methods, which recovered gold, silver and cobalt from ICT printed circuit boards. 

The trial involved several steps which included the use of biological systems (bacteria and fungi), innovative benchtop chemistry and a novel Electro-Chemical Cell to maximise recovery.

Photographs showing the cultivation of bacteria and the recovery of gold from a laboratory reference solution.

The information and evidence gathered through the trials has supported the development of a European wide infrastructure plan and policy recommendations to support the increased recovery of critical and valuable materials from WEEE.

The outcomes of the project have provided information and data to inform:

The type and quantity of equipment that can be collected from a number of different collection/logistics models.  From this, equipment suitable for reuse has been sold into markets, with equipment suitable for reprocessing identified and Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) selected for the innovative reprocessing techniques.

How ICT WEEE that cannot be reused can be responsibly recycled using a method that maximises CRM recovery cost effectively and safely. 

Identification of processes that may maximise gold, silver and cobalt recovery in the future.
How current and evolving policy and reuse/recycling infrastructure status is able to facilitate the delivery of the vision e.g. through regulations, good practice, systems, economics etc.
The team are actively exploring options to continue this fundamental research, which maximises the life-span of valuable, and often scarce natural resources.

The trial was one of a number commissioned by the LIFE funded project Critical Raw Material Closed Loop Recovery delivered through a partnership of WRAP, the KTN, Wuppertal Institute, ERP UK Ltd, and EARN. Trials throughout Europe explored commercial opportunities for harvesting CRMs and precious metals from everyday unwanted electronic items.  The trials aimed to increase the recovery of a range of CRMs by 5% from products including consumer electronics.

If you require further information about the project please contact: Brian Menzies.