By Janet Burns
The practice of using tiny amounts of conductive gold in our millions of printed circuit boards has already sent a precious chunk of the world’s total gold stores into its landfills and, despite our best recycling efforts, out of our reach. Now, a Scottish research team plans to get it back.
University of Edinburgh scientists recently demonstrated a new process for recovering gold from discarded electronics with a specially engineered compound that separates it from surrounding materials, and which is safer and more effective at the task than any previous methods. Their study involved submerging printed circuit boards in “mild acid” to dissolve all metal parts, after which researchers added an “oily liquid containing the team’s chemical compound,” which allows them to then selectively extract gold from the broken-down mixture of metals.
According to the team, up to seven percent of the world’s gold may currently be contained in electrical waste, while current mining and usage practices may see that number yet rise. Of the approximately 330 tons of gold produced worldwide per year, an estimated 12% of gold was being marked for use in the technology sector by 2013, BBC News notes. The ongoing popularity growth of smartphones and other gadgets suggests, too, that even more of the world’s gold may being ending up in tomorrow’s new devices; once there, the BBC says, “it is often used in such small quantities, in each individual products, that it may [not] be economical to recycle it …. [and so] gold may be being ‘consumed’ for the first time.”