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Pre-commercial pilot for the efficient recovery of Precious Metals from European end of life resources with novel low cost technologies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PEACOC (Pre-commercial pilot for the efficient recovery of Precious Metals from European end of life resources with novel low cost technologies)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-10-31

The aim of the PEACOC project is to demonstrate, on a pre-commercial pilot scale (TRL7), a novel, economically and environmentally viable metallurgical process for the recovery of PMs from a wide variety of EoL products that are abundantly available in Europe.
This aim will be reached by the following specific objectives:
- To demonstrate at TRL7 novel concentration technologies (Magnetic Density Separation (MDS), NOVA, and Ultra-Fast Sorting (UFS) able together to increase the concentration of PMs by up to 100 times from low and mid-grade PCBAs.
- To demonstrate a flexible refining process at TRL 7 capable of producing PMs from the PEACOC feed with a PMs purity level of > 99%.
- To demonstrate several environmental benefits of the PEACOC process based on the improved operational conditions of the novel refining stage, compared to state-of-the-art (SoA) pyro/hydrometallurgical processes.
- To design and demonstrate a mobile refining pilot at pre-commercial scale capable of producing at least 2 kg of PGMs/week: i) 2 kg PGMs/week from spent autocatalysts, ii) 0.5-1 kg Au/week from low and mid-grade Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA), and iii) 10 kg Ag/week from EoL Photovoltaic (PV) panels.
- To provide proof of process sustainability from economic, technical and environmental perspectives.
- To valorize the recovered PMs into several applications (i.e. new autocatalysts, energy generation, 3D printed catalysts, PCBA & jewellery, and added value individual PMs streams).
- To identify new or yet un-valorized resources in Europe and neighbouring countries
- To promote the results across the wider PM refining sector through engagement with prospective investors and end-users, dissemination, exploitation and clustering activities with industry and academia, policy makers and the public at large.
- To expand the impact of the PEACOC project by conceptually exploring the replication of the proposed process to treat other EoL or secondary resources (slags, tailings, etc.) containing many valuable metals.
The technical concept of PEACOC, summarised in Figure attached is based on the combination of several technologies, that can be grouped mainly under (1) low-cost concentration stage, (2) low-cost refining stage and (3) valorization stage.
(1) The main concentration technologies were developed at pilot level TRL 6 by partners ULI and TUD, in two different locations in Europe (Belgium and The Netherlands) and will be brought to TRL 7 in PEACOC. Additionally, other concentration technologies such as floatation by ULI and DES by TEC will be considered to further increase the concentration of PMs.
(2) The refining stage is based on two novel low-cost technologies: Microwave (MW) assisted leaching and Gas Diffusion Electrocrystallization (GDEx). In the PLATIRUS R&I project, both technologies were explored by the partner VITO, and selected by the PLATIRUS consortium as the most promising ones out of 9 other technologies for direct PMs or metal oxide recovery routes from waste materials containing PMs.
(3) The PEACOC concept also considers the valorization of the PMs: as single PMs streams through the Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES) extraction, by reutilising the obtained PMs from the PEACOC process in the production of new components such as new autocatalysts or 3D printed products.
PEACOC project started in May 2021 and will run until April 2025. The main technical activities carried out up to date are:
• Optimization experiments carried out by ULI and TUD to optimise MDS and UFS, and NOVA and flotation technologies respectively.
• PCBAs from LCD TVs and electronic components have been characterised.
• PCBAs from CRT TVs have been processed by NOVA.
• UFS has been tested and may be replaced by a rolling grader that provides better results for the separation of CPUs from PCBAs.
• Upscaling of NOVA process is being developed.
• Optimization experiments carried out by VITO to optimise MW and GDEx processes.
• Experimental data gathering for GDEx modelling and validation.
• Preliminary selection of the filtration unit was done.
• Gathering scientific information and experimental data for upscaling the MW system and the GDEx process.
• Development of models to solve configuration particularities of the GDEx system and optimize its performance.
• Experiments with the selected DES have been done under different experimental conditions to leach the PMs and PGMs out of the samples received from MON, COM, and ULI (Ref 12, 28, 32 and 43).
• Based on the results from previous experiments, the operational conditions to develop multiple-stage processes and to use the combination of DES with electrochemical treatment will be selected and tested.
The current demand for PGMs is driven by their use in autocatalysts, representing up to 80%, of the global gross demand respectively. In the EU this percentage is even higher due to the strict emissions regulations. Besides autocatalysts, PGMs are currently used in the EU (to a limited extend compared to autocatalysts) in the chemical sector (as catalysts), the electrical industry (in PCBA and electronics components like capacitors) as well as in the medical, dental, glass and jewelry sectors2. The future demand for PGMs was studied in the SCRREEN project (2016-2020) which delivered a forecast for different applications up to 2035. The study concluded that significant PGMs demand for autocatalysts will remain in the EU over the period. It was projected that other sectors (e.g. the chemical and electrical, includinh H2 fuel cells) will show increased demand in the coming decades, meaning that the use of PGMs will remain crucial. Those markets will influence the forecasted demand for PGMs and could drive it beyond 2035.
WEEE is another important secondary source, for instance Pd can be found in computer motherboards and mobile phones in grades of 80 and 130 g/t, respectively.3 However, the recycling rate of PCBA in the EU is poor, as only 5-10% are recycled due to low collection rates, the complex mixture of materials in this waste, and the low PMs content.3
Unlike PGMs, Au and Ag are mined in European countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK , thus making the EU less dependent on imports. However, their use in jewelry and investment bars limits the possibilities of “closed materials loops” in other applications.
In terms of potential of recycling, ~ 100 t of Ag (worth ~ 70 M€) were not recovered from PCBA in 2015. Also, it has been estimated that Ag can be present in PV panels, in concentrations of about 600 g/t in crystalline PV modules. Moreover, EoL PV panels are expected to undergo significant expansion in the coming decade increasing from 43 kt in 2017 (i.e. 25.8 t of Ag) to more than 1.2 Mt in 2030 and to 60 Mt in 2050. Their recycling is expected to generate around 720 t to 36 kt Ag in 2030 and 2050 respectively, worth ~0.5 B€ and 2.6 B€. To conclude, there is a significant untapped potential for recycling Au and Ag from EU resources such as increasing EoL products that are not yet effectively valorized (e.g. low/mid-grade PCBA and PV panels).
In this context, the PEACOC process provides a viable solution to secure Europe the supply of these metals from abundant EoL products available and currently not being valorised, while at the same time reducing the landfilling of EoL products.