A mobile recycling facility being tested in eastern and southern Europe is aiming to get the most from electronic waste.
Bernd Kopacek, managing director of SAT in Austria, explained: “We have developed a machine which is mobile, that means we can move from one recycler to another recycler and extract rare and precious substances from electronic waste, mainly metals, like for example, gold or silver or copper, or yttrium, lithium and so on.”
The mobile recycling system sits inside a container – and is currently parked on the outskirts of Belgrade.
The idea is to give small recycling companies new ways to extract precious metals from electronic junk.
Francesco Veglio, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, said: “As an example this is a powder that you find in cathode tubes, but this part of the waste that contains a large quantity of yttrium, nearly 10 per cent, is usually sent to the dump.”
The TV tubes are waste no more, as they are ground up and poured into the mix.
Professor Francesco Veglio: “You could visualise our process as a bit like making coffee in the morning. We call this operation leaching. Water going through a solid that makes the coffee soluble.
“Of course to help the recuperation of this element, for example as with the Yttrium that we find in this powder, we add chemical reagents that make this operation possible.”
The end results may look like sludge, but in fact Yttrium is a crucial element for making LEDs.
So which other old gadgets are rich in rare metals?
Mr Kopacek answered: “PCS, notebooks, DVD players, adapters, flourescent lighs bulbs, screens like monitors or TVs, batteries, LCD displays and so on and so on.”
SET Reciklaza in Belgrade is one of the partners in the EU project to develop the system.
The aim is that companies in eastern Europe should have the same recycling capabilities as their competitors in the west.
“You can imagine that we are for one month here in Serbia, then we go to another recycler which is perhaps a bit bigger, then we are two months in Romania, and so on,” said Mr Kopacek.