Royal Mint announces ‘world first’ gold-producing plant

Royal MintNew technology will enable The Royal Mint to recover precious metals from discarded electronic devices, including mobile phones and laptops. The government-owned company stated that the new plant will offer a solution to environmental challenges, support jobs and provide a new source of metals.

The pioneering facility in South Wales will use patented new chemistry, developed by Canadian based Excir, to recover over 99 per cent of precious metals within the circuit boards of electronic waste. When fully operational in 2023, The Royal Mint expects to process up to 90 tonnes of UK circuit boards per year - creating hundreds of kilograms of gold per year.

The plant will see precious metals recovered at room temperature rather than the current system of transporting electronic waste from the UK to be processed at high temperatures in smelters. By adopting the principles of a circular economy, the plant will process the entire circuit board.

A spokesperson for The Royal Mint commented that: “The entire circuit board will be re-used which includes separating small metal fractions as well as the fiberglass and plastics. These will be processed to a condition that will enable them to be re-used. Initially the focus is on gold, but we will also look to recover other precious metals such as silver and palladium. The non-precious metal that we produce (copper, tin, steel, aluminium) will go to other companies to manufacture new products”.

Sean Millard, Chief Growth Officer at The Royal Mint said: “Working with our partners Excir, we have introduced world-first technology to the UK capable of recovering precious metals from electronic waste in seconds. 

“We estimate that 99% of the UK’s circuit boards are currently shipped overseas to be processed at high temperatures in smelters. As the volume of electronic waste increases each year, this problem is only set to become bigger. When fully operational our plant will be the first of its kind in the world – processing tonnes of electronic waste each week, and providing a new source of high quality gold direct to The Royal Mint.”

Responding to news of the initiative, Scott Butler, Executive Director of Material Focus, which manages the Recycle Your Electricals campaign on behalf of trade associations representing the producers of electrical appliances, commented: “Waste electricals are the fastest growing waste stream in the UK and the world”. The Recycle Your Electricals campaign has the goal of stopping the nation from throwing away or hoarding old, small electricals due to the hidden value in electricals.

“The Royal Mint’s innovative plant joins other companies who are beginning the exciting journey that the UK is commencing to realise the huge potential that could be achieved if we were all to recycle our electricals.

“In the UK we are throwing away over 300,000 tonnes of electricals each year and hoarding 527 million items. 95 tonnes of precious metals including gold, silver and palladium - equivalent to £857 million - could be recycled from unwanted electricals each year. Our research has indicated that if all the unwanted electricals we hoard or throw away every year in the UK were recycled, we’d have enough gold to make over 858,000 rings.”