Royal Mint to turn e-waste from phones and laptops into gold coins in ‘world first’

·3-min read
The Royal Mint unveils world's first technology to recover gold from electronic waste. Photo: Royal Mint
The Royal Mint unveils 'world's first technology' to recover gold from electronic waste on circuit boards. Photo: Royal Mint

The Royal Mint has found a way to recover electronic waste from everyday items such as mobile phones and laptops and turn it into gold, which they plan to use to make commemorative coins.

The coin producer announced plans to build a plant in South Wales to recover gold from UK e-waste.

It said this will "help address a growing environmental issue, support jobs and skills in Britain, and create a new source of high quality precious metals for the business".

The site is expected to be fully operational in 2023.

The Royal Mint expects to process up to 90 tonnes of UK-sourced circuit boards per week — generating hundreds of kilograms of gold per year.

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In addition, the new business venture will support around 40 jobs, helping existing employees to re-skill as well as recruiting new chemists and engineers.

The UK government-owned mint partnered with Canadian clean tech startup Excir to introduce what it calls the "world's first technology" to safely retrieve and recycle gold and other precious metals from e-waste.

Excir's patented technology recovers over 99% of gold from e-waste contained within circuit boards of discarded electronic devices as its chemistry selectively targets and extracts metals from circuit boards.

Excir chemistry to extract precious metals from circuit boards. Image: Royal Mint.
Excir chemistry to extract precious metals from circuit boards. Image: Royal Mint.

The process will see precious metals recovered at room temperature in the South Wales facility, instead of waste leaving Britain to be processed at high temperatures in smelters.

The plant will be able to process the entire circuit board while preserving natural resources for longer, helping to reduce the environmental impact of e-waste, according to the Royal Mint.

Small quantities of gold, silver and copper are embedded in circuit boards and other electronic hardware that are part of a growing pile of gadgets thrown away globally each year.

Figures show that each year more than 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced globally, set to reach 74 million tonnes by 2030, with just 17.4% of electronic waste currently recycled world-wide.

The process of recovering precious metals from e-waste. Image: Royal Mint
The process of recovering precious metals from e-waste. Image: Royal Mint

The Royal Mint has been making coins in Britain for nearly 1,100 years.

Sean Millard, chief growth officer at 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.

"This approach is revolutionary and offers huge potential to reuse our planet’s precious resources, reduce the environmental footprint of electronic waste and create new jobs.

"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."

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Meanwhile, gold (GC=F), an asset perceived as a safe haven, stabilised on Monday after posting its biggest weekly drop since June last year.

Bullion was trading at $1,925 an ounce, following a 3.4% fall after the US Federal Reserve hiked interest rates last week for the first time since 2018.

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