Aurubis will invest $359 million at a smelter, gold maintains its recent high prices and researchers say recycled copper from e-scrap doesn’t necessarily generate fewer greenhouse gasses than virgin mined metal.
The following includes those and other recent e-scrap metals recycling news items.
New refinery in Germany
Precious metals refiner Aurubis will invest 330 million euros ($359 million) in its Hamburg, Germany site. Most of the funds will support development of a new precious metals processing plant, slated to start up in 2026. The facility will employ a “newly developed metallurgical process” that reduces processing time and lowers operating costs by 15%, the company stated.
“With this new plant, Aurubis is significantly expanding production capacity in precious metals and laying the groundwork for additional growth strategy projects,” Aurubis stated.
The new facility also includes numerous security features, which the company said is a response to a recent string of high-profile metals thefts at its facilities.
“The new processing area for precious metals takes security to a completely new level,” CEO Roland Harings stated in the release. “We are acting quickly, decisively and with resolve – all the takeaways from the most recent criminal activities directed against Aurubis have been incorporated into the plant’s design.”
The company’s Hamburg site is already its largest campus, employing 2,000 workers engaged in processing precious metals. Aurubis, which is among the largest copper producers in the world, is building a secondary smelter in Augusta, Ga. that will process printed circuit boards, cables and other scrap materials. The company is a major downstream outlet for processed e-scrap materials.
Carbon footprint of copper from e-scrap
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, researchers reached a provocative conclusion regarding copper used in electrical transformers: Recycled copper sourced from e-scrap may not have a lower greenhouse gas footprint than virgin mined metal in some circumstances.
The article, published Nov. 30, noted that researchers looked at virgin, low-carbon virgin and recycled copper produced by mining and smelting company Boliden, which conducts large-scale e-scrap recycling at a facility in Sweden. They then modeled the use of the different metals in electrical transformers.
The virgin metal came from third-party mined materials brought to Sweden from overseas; the low-carbon metal was from Boliden’s Swedish mines, which use low-emissions electricity and have relatively high productivity and the recycled metal was assumed to be sourced from printed circuit boards (PCBs) processed by Boliden.
The researchers estimated the virgin and recycled copper have emissions profiles on par with each other, both higher than the low-carbon virgin metals. They said the recycled copper’s high emissions profile was because the recycling process involves incinerating plastic PCBs.
“Recycled copper is not necessarily superior to mined copper in transformer manufacturing, in that the emissions associated with the processing of recycled waste can, as in this case, greatly exceed the emissions from mining copper, especially if the latter comes from sites that use low-emissions mining methods,” according to the article.
The researchers stressed that their results don’t mean companies should abandon buying recycled copper. Rather, they used downstream buyers to “work with suppliers to ensure that cleaner methods of copper recycling can be developed. This may even include working with circuit-board manufacturers to use low-emissions plastics in their production, so that the copper can be extracted for a second life in a way that is both economically and environmentally sensible.”
Gold prices hit recent high
Gold prices continue to trade at historically high levels, driven by larger economic factors.
The metal, the key value driver in printed circuit board recycling, is trading for about $2,038 per troy ounce, according to gold continuous contract numbers from The Commodity Exchange Inc. (COMEX). Prices jumped on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Only after COVID-19 hit did gold begin trading at periods for over $2,000 per ounce, although it hasn’t maintained that high level since then. On Dec. 1, it appears to have hit a new high of nearly $2,090 per ounce, according to COMEX data.
CNBC reported the high prices are tied to a weaker dollar, and Goldman Sachs is predicting a rosy outlook for 2024.
Metals recovery startup releases pilot results
Modern Mining, a startup metals recovery company, recently disclosed how much valuable metal it managed to recover from PCBs during a pilot project.
The company, which has started the process of becoming a publicly traded company, recovered 0.5 ounces of palladium, 4 ounces of gold, 44 ounces of silver and 582 pounds of copper from 1 ton of PCBs.
A Vancouver, B.C.-based company that has operations in North Carolina, Modern Mining uses shredding, milling and a water-based separation process to remove plastics from PCB scrap to produce what it calls a metallic sand concentrate (MSC). The MSC is then further processed to produce separated gold, silver, copper and platinum-group metals.
In an early November press release, Modern Mining reported on the results of trials it conducted on the efficiency of its metals recovery technology. At a newly commissioned demonstration facility in Greenville, N.C., Modern Mining recently processed 3,000 pounds of PCB scrap. From that, the company produced 1,000 pounds of MSC.
Samples of the MSC were then sent to potential buyers, who conducted their own analysis of the metals content.
“The MSC results were positive from all the third-party buyer’s independent analyses reports showing consistent high-grade material content which met quality thresholds across all third-party purchasing criteria,” the release stated.
Modern Mining then sold the 1,000 pounds of MSC, which contained the metals concentrations noted above.
The press release lists “4 ounces of gold” and “6 gold ounces total metal equivalent.” Jeet Basi, CEO and president, explained that the second number is related to how the gold mining industry normalizes production from mines that produce a variety of metals, not just gold.
What that “6 gold ounces total metal equivalent” means is that the value of all the metals sold equals what 6 ounces of gold would be worth. In other words, the value of the palladium, silver and copper at the spot commodity price at time of transaction was equivalent to the value of 2 ounces of gold. Add to those 2 ounces the 4 ounces of gold extracted and sold, and you get the 6 gold ounces total metal equivalent.
The company says it was happy with the results.
“Insofar as the results were exactly as we anticipated, we are nonetheless beyond excited by the outcomes, especially having concluded our first sales which help validate our end-to-end strategy,” Basi stated in the press release. “The demonstration trials showcased our ability to successfully procure e-waste, effectively extract and recover strategic metals from that e-waste, and ultimately produce saleable metal products, all using our transformative proprietary water-based pre-concentration methods and processing systems. Lastly, and most importantly, the demonstrations illustrated our ability to successfully generate a commercial product.”