The recycling chain for electronic scrap consists of various, usually sequential steps: collection, dismantling, shredding/pre-processing, and end-processing of the various materials and metals. Each of these requires experienced specialists with dedicated technologies. Our strength and focus is end-processing, which means recycling in the true meaning of the word: the physical recovery of metals back into their pure metallic form. In the context of value recovery and environmental impact, this transformation of specific e-scrap-fractions such as circuit boards and other materials into precious metals, copper and other base and special metals forms a crucial and an integral part of the recycling chain.
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) = Printed wiring boards (PWBs) / Fractions containing printed circuit boards
These are typically categorized into different qualities, depending on their gold content:
- very high grade: gold content of minimum 400 ppm
- high grade: gold content of minimum 200 ppm
- medium grade : gold content of minimum 100 ppm
- low grade: gold content of minimum 50 ppm
- very low grade: gold content lower than 50 ppm
HINT: Remove large Al/Fe-parts but be careful, especially in case of shredding and sorting, not to lose valuable (precious) metals in side streams. For high and medium grade boards avoid pre-treatment and ship them as they are.
Our process consists of the following operations and services:
- weighing and sampling
Making sure that material is accurately weighed and sampled - thereby providing correct weights, moisture content and representative samples for assaying - is one of the most important steps in an assay-based transaction. Indeed, if the sample is not representative, how can the supplier get the return he deserves? Furthermore, especially with materials like electronic scrap that contains hazardous substances, precise determination of the material composition is a prerequisite of environmentally sound treatment. At Umicore Precious Metal Refining, the customer has the right to be represented during the weighing and sampling process, thereby increasing the level of trust and confidence.
Representative samples are assayed by both the refiner's lab and - if desired - by the customer's lab (or alternatively an external lab appointed by the customer). Assays from both labs can then be exchanged and compared, leading to settlement by splitting the difference or, if this is too large, relying on assays by a third party, usually known as an umpire. Assaying is done by a variety of techniques, possibly leading to similar results. Umicore uses fire-assay (collection on Pb) followed by ICP for final determination and has a century of expertise in low concentrations. A description of the assaying method is available to our customers on request.
- melting and refining
The Umicore plant in Hoboken uses a unique metallurgical flowsheet, based on copper, lead and nickel as collector metals to secure high recovery yields for all precious metals and numerous other metals. The crucial steps, which turned the Hoboken facility into the most modern and cleanest plant of its kind in the world, have been the considerable investments of € 400 million in technology between 1996 and 2010. At the heart of this technological quantum leap is the new smelter, which serves as a gateway and upgrading step for most incoming electronic scrap fractions. Any plastics or organic residues contained in the input materials are also utilized as a reducing agent and partly as a fuel substitute. All processes are equipped with highly efficient off-gas and waste water cleaning systems, which make it possible to comply with the strictest environmental standards, even for difficult and complex feed materials. The plant is certified under ISO9001 and 14001 as well as OHSAS18001. Over 95% of the feed is turned into useful products, and the final slag from the plant is used for construction purposes (e.g. for dyke construction). As to the small remaining, non-recyclable portion of the feed, toxic elements such as cadmium (Cd) or mercury (Hg) are also systematically extracted and subsequently disposed of in a safe and controlled way. This clearly avoids the risk of contaminating the environment, which would happen if these elements were not processed in the right way. Unlike some other operations, Umicore Precious Metal Refining processes electronic scrap on-site up to at least 99.95% fine metals.
- assay-based settlement
Each recycling lot shipped to Umicore is settled with the customer based on the agreements and contracts concluded beforehand. These contracts consider the economical values obtained from recovering the (precious) metals on the one hand and the efforts needed to do this (including off-gas and waste water treatment) on the other. The customer receives detailed documentation, which states the weights and quality of materials received, guaranteeing appropriate treatment and hence underlining our commitment to maximize traceability and transparency.