Resource Use

Trials to improve capture of diminishing raw materials for electrical waste under way

Trials to improve capture of diminishing raw materials for electrical waste under way
Three companies have been selected to trial innovative ways to boost the recovery of critical raw materials (CRMs) from household electrical waste.

Many consumer electronics contain small quantities of valuable materials like precious metals, graphite and cobalt, which are vital for the creation of electronic products but are diminishing in supply.

Each year around almost 10 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is generated in the EU, but only 30 per cent of this is reported to be properly collected and recycled, meaning CRMs ‘crucial to many electrical products’ are lost.

The Critical Raw Material Closed Loop Recovery project was launched last October to explore commercial for opportunities for harvesting these critical raw materials and is aiming to increase the recovery of target CRMs by five per cent by 2020 and 20 per cent by 2030. After a tendering process has chosen the companies that will trial new methods.

Trial details

The trials will study the potential for range of techniques from manual and chemical dismantling to electrochemical and hydrometallurgical processes, to increase recovery of CRMs. They will have a particular focus on the recovery of cobalt, antimony, graphite, tantalum, rare earth elements, gold, silver, platinum group metals and copper.

Collection mechanisms for CRM recovery include retailer take-back schemes, reuse containers at household waste recycling centres, business collections, university drop-off hubs, school collections and other collection events.

Axion Consulting and Re-Tek, both from the UK, and Ecodom from Italy are the companies chosen by the project to carry out trials, which began this month and will continue until the end of June 2018. Further trials in Germany and Turkey are expected to begin later this year. Findings from the trials will inform policy recommendation throughout the EU.

Funding of over €400,000 (£335,000) has been made available by the EU-LIFE programme, which provides financial support to projects advancing environment and climate action.

The project is the result of a partnership between project leader WRAP, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), the Wuppertal Institute, the European Recycling Platform UK (ERP UK) and the European Advanced Recycling Network (EARN).

These trials are the first stage in the €2.1-million (£1.75-million), three-and-a-half-year project, which as well as EU-LIFE has been supported by Innovate UK, the Welsh Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Engagement with consumers and new technologies

Commenting on the upcoming trials, Jane Gardner of Axion Consulting said: “Axion Consulting is very pleased to be involved in this project working with a strong consortium of partners including DixonsCarphone, DHL EnviroSolutions, E3 Recycling Ltd and ITRI Ltd.

“We are looking forward to working with our partners to trial different ways to engage with consumers to encourage them to return WEEE to retailers, and measure the impact this has on the volume and quality of material collected. The WEEE collected will then be processed using technologies which are at the forefront of CRM recovery techniques.”

A spokesperson for Re-tek said: “Re-tek and our Collaboration partners, Enscape Consultancy and University of West of Scotland are delighted to have secured funding to participate in the WEEE Collection and CRM recovery trials. The team will be happy to hear from local authorities, educational establishments, companies (private and third sector) interested in collaborating with us on this exciting programme.”

A statement from Italian company Ecodom concluded: “Ecodom is proud to bring its contribute to the evaluation of the opportunities to increase CRM recovery from WEEE, by implementing the Italian collection trials in Milano. These trials will focus on the small electronic appliances, which will be collected in a smarter way: the equipment containing CRM will be concentrated in specific flows, avoiding cherry picking of components and damage of the appliances, in order also to investigate the potential for reuse.”

More information about the project can be found on the Critical Raw Material Recovery website.

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