Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - HYDROWEEE DEMO (Innovative Hydrometallurgical Processes to recover Metals from WEEE including lamps and batteries - Demonstration)

Executive Summary:
Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe. Electr(on)ic products that contain a high amount of valuable metals. For example, mobile phones have a metal content of 25 % (accumulator and recharger not included), mainly copper (Cu), iron (Fe), nickel (Ni), silver (Ag) and zinc (Zn). Though the absolute amounts of each device regarding the most valuable elements are low (16 g Cu, 0.35 g Ag, 0.0034 g Au, 0.015 g Pd, and 0.00034 g Pt) this adds up to e.g. 0.35 t of platinum (Pt) based on estimated 1 billion of cell phones in 2010. Regardless of their low amount in specific electronic components there are some metals which are highly preferred or are even essential for the present technology.
In 2010 the Raw Materials Initiative of the European Commission defined 14 critical raw materials, most of rare metals (including rare earths oxide) which are used for electr(on)ic devices belong to this category.

The project aimed to demonstrate the stability, financial credibility and resource-efficiency of the innovative processes developed in the previous FP7-Research for SMEs project HydroWEEE, an industrial stationary plant as well as a full-scale mobile plant have been realised.
The previously developed processes of extracting yttrium (Y), indium (In), lithium (Li), cobalt (Co), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), gold (Au), silver (Ag), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), tin (Sn) will be improved more and new processes to recover additional metals which are still in the output fractions (e.g. Cerium Ce, Platinum Pt, Palladium (Pd), Europium (Eu), Lanthanum (La), Terbium (Tb), ...) from WEEE or other sectors (e.g. automotive, ...), innovative solutions for the integrated treatment of waste water as well as solid wastes have been further developed.

The overall objective of the HydroWEEE Demo project was to build 2 industrial scale, real-life demonstration plants (one stationary and one mobile) in order to test the performance and prove the viability of the processes from an integrated point of view (technical, economical, operational, social) including the assessment of its risks (including health) and benefits to the society and the environment as well as remove the barriers for a wide market uptake later on.


Project Context and Objectives:
Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe. Worldwide figures are ranging from 20-50 million cubic meters e-waste. About 5% of the total waste stream can be derived from End-of-life Electr(on)ics. Therefore the EC implemented the so called WEEE Directive in order to ensure an environmental friendly treatment of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment. In the European Union alone more than 17 million tons of electrical and electronics will become obsolete this year.
Rapid changes of consumer demands have affected that WEEE represents the fastest growing waste stream in the EU with between 3 and 5 % per year, which means that it doubles every 12-15 years. In average every three years the IT equipment is exchanged by rapid growing turnover rates. Other electr(on)ic products are exchanged in average every 5 years. The life cycle of electr(on)ics is decreasing constantly, products are exchanged faster and faster. Obsolete electr(on)ic equipment ends up as e-waste which leads more and more to a global problem: With its complex composition of materials, components and hazardous substances, it constitutes a considerable threat to the environment. About 70% of the heavy metal in landfill is directly coming from e-waste. Next to that a reproduction of electr(on)ics needs about 10 times the final weight on abiotic natural resources (especially crude oil). That means that a TV set of about 50 kilos consumed about 500 kilos of raw materials during the production phase. Hence it is clear that landfilling of e-waste is an environmental crime. Countries all over the world therefore reacted and developed a legislation which should lead to a “greening” of e-waste.

Material diversity and strategic metals
Electr(on)ic products consist of a high amount of diverse metals. According to a survey of Sullivan e.g. mobile phones have a metal content of 25 % (accumulator and recharger not included), mainly copper (Cu), iron (Fe), nickel (Ni), silver (Ag) and zinc (Zn). Though the absolute amounts of each device regarding the most valuable elements are low (16 g Cu, 0.35 g Ag, 0.0034 g Au, 0.015 g Pd, and 0.00034 g Pt) this adds up to e.g. 0.35 t of platinum based on estimated 1 billion of cell phones in 2010.
Regardless of their low amount in specific electronic components there are some metals which are highly preferred or are even essential for the present technology. The most famous example is tantalum and niobium, which is processed from the ore coltan.
In 2010 the Raw Materials Initiative of the European Commission defined 14 critical raw materials, most of rare metals (including rare earths oxide) which are used for electr(on)ic devices belong to this category.
Most electr(on)ic relevant metals are mined in only in 5 – 10 (non-European) countries, some of them in conflicting areas without “good governance”.

Recycling of these “critical metals” will contribute to:
• the overarching goals / objectives of the proposed project
• minimizing the toxic burden on and around the sites of mining, processing and manufacturing
- reducing the devastation of soil, natural habitat and other living conditions of as well human beings as endangered species of animals and plants
• cost saving for manufacturing (taking into account rising prices for most of minerals and metals respectively)
- downsizing the dependency of permanent supply of essential resources from some non-European countries
- supporting initiatives, resolutions and legal actions of the UN, EU, OECD and national governments for saving national resources and energy towards improving environmental protection.

In addition the recycling business is traditionally dominated by SMEs. The latest data from Eurostat (2008) show for EU27 the following key data for the recycling sector:
Number of companies 14.400
% SME 80%
Turnover (in Mio €) 30.000
Value creation (in Mio €) 6.300
Employees 130.000

In the last 5 years a general trend in the electronics (including batteries and lamps) recycling sector to bigger companies is very visible. Multinational, multi-sector companies are buying several smaller recyclers every year.
This trend is mainly caused by 2 factors:
• Many countries transposed the WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and Battery Directives in a way relying heavily on collective systems (producer responsibility organizations). These collective systems want to make their lives as easy as possible and normally contract only 2 or 3 recycling companies covering the whole country. This very much favors bigger multinational groups that are able to invest in very expensive mechanical recycling and separation machinery (e.g. proper separation lines start at 5 million €).
• Also the big secondary raw material processors are more interested in few big contracts instead of a lot of small contracts as this brings down their administrative costs (notification for transborder shipments, sampling, billing, ...). Therefore it is close to impossible to sell materials with a high concentration of rare and precious metals (e.g. printed circuit boards) for SMEs at the moment.

Hence the previous FP7-Research for SMEs project HydroWEEE (01.03.2009 – 28.02.2012) dealt with the recovery of rare and precious metals from WEEE including lamps and spent batteries by hydrometallurgical processes. The idea has been to develop a mobile plant using hydrometallurgical processes to extract metals like yttrium, indium, lithium, cobalt, zinc, copper, gold, silver, nickel, lead, tin in a high purity (above 95%). By making this plant mobile (in a container) several SMEs can benefit from the same plant at different times and therefore limit the necessary quantities of waste as well as investments. By making the processes universal several fractions (lamps, CRTs, LCDs, printed circuit boards and Li-batteries) can be treated in the same mobile plant in batches. This reduces the minimum quantity per fraction per recycler even more. In addition these innovative HydroWEEE processes produce pure enough material that they can be directly used by end-users for electroplating and other applications. Because of this 2 levels of intermediaries from today (bigger recyclers and secondary material processors) will be bypassed. This will make the SMEs much more competitive than today and reverse the general trend to bigger companies.
In addition this will decrease the environmental impact substantially as
• on the one hand the pilot plant will be transported to the recyclers´ locations instead of shipping large quantities of materials through whole Europe as it is done today and
• on the other hand increase substantially the resource-efficiency in Europe as a lot more precious and rare material will be recycled economically and by that decrease the amount of mining as well as landfilling.

In the previous research project a mobile pilot plant with a reactor size of 1 m3 has been developed that has been and still can be used for process development and optimisation. However in order to really demonstrate the stability, financial credibility and resource-efficiency of our innovative processes an industrial stationary plant as well as a full-scale mobile plant (2-3 m3 reactor) have to be built.
Finally the previously developed processes of extracting yttrium, indium, lithium, cobalt, zinc, copper, gold, silver, nickel, lead, tin will be improved even more and new processes to recover additional metals which are still in this fractions (e.g. Cerium, Platinum, Palladium, Europium, Lanthanum, Terbium, ...) from WEEE or other sectors (e.g. automotive, ...) as well as innovative solutions for the integrated treatment of waste water as well as solid wastes will be developed.

Summarized the objective of the HydroWEEE Demo project has been to build 2 industrial scale, real-life demonstration plants (one stationary and one mobile) in order to test the performance and prove the viability of the processes from an integrated point of view (technical, economical, operational, social) including the assessment of its risks (including health) and benefits to the society and the environment as well as remove the barriers for a wide market uptake later on.
Project Results:
After defining exactly the specifications of the industrial-like, stationary demonstration plant mainly by Relight, EcoRecycling designed the plant in detail in workpackage 1. Based on that a general contractor has been selected following an international tender. After intense negotiations and cost-wise optimisation the contractor built the demonstration plant and Relight started with test operations.

Workpackage 2 started also with the exact definition of the specifications of the industrial-like mobile demonstration plant by ISL, Greentronics, SET and EcoRecycling. Based on that EcoRecycling designed and built the plant following international tenders fort he individual components. Pupin contributed the electrical works for the mobile plant as well as the automation of both plants. Finally the mobile plant has been delivered to Greentronics for first tests.

Because of the rapidly falling prices for most critical metals (rare earth) the research team - UNIVAQ, UNIROMA and UNIVPM – needed to optimise the economical performance of the individual processes in workpackge 3. In addition a new process for industrial catalysts as well as a solution to treat the waste water has been developed.. Furthermore ISL developed a semi-automated dismantling process for extracting components rich in precious and critical materials from printed wiring boards in order to enlarge the concentration of these materials in the input fraction.

In workpackages 4 and 5 all necessary preparations (permissions, infrastructure, input material, ...) for the operation of both plants have been done by Relight and Greentronics. Both plants have been operated successfully under real life conditions.

In workpackage 6 several publications and presentations have raised a lot of awareness and expectations from potential users and buyers of the HydroWEEE plants. Several dissemination activities attracting lot of attention have been carried out.

Finally ISL ensured the smooth and successful running of the project through workpackage 7.


Please find more details in the attachment!
Potential Impact:
A mobile plant using hydrometallurgical processes has been developed to extract valuable metals with high purity (above 95%) from WEEE.
By making this plant mobile (in a container) several SMEs can benefit from the same plant at different times and therefore limit the necessary quantities of waste as well as investments. By making the processes universal, several fractions (lamps, CRTs, LCDs, printed circuit boards and Li-batteries) can be treated in the same mobile plant in batches. This approach can further contribute by reducing the minimum quantity per fraction per recycler.

In addition these innovative HydroWEEE processes produce materials with a grade of purity that they can be directly used by end-users for electroplating and other applications.
In this way, two levels of intermediaries in the recycling product chain (bigger recyclers and secondary material processors) will be bypassed. As a consequence, SME recyclers will increase their competitiveness.

HydroWEEE Demo will boost European competitiveness by applying novel processes for improved resource efficiency by extracting rare and precious metals from WEEE and other sectors. Furthermore it will reduce Europe´s dependence on foreign raw material sources (e.g. recent export ban of rare earth metals from China) and by that make the European industry more independent and vulnerable.

Please find more details on social impact in the attachment!
List of Websites:
ResouTech
c/o ISL – Kopacek KG
Beckmanngasse 51
A-1140 Vienna
Phone: +43-1-2982020
Email: bernd.kopacek@isl-group.at
Web: commercial
project

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Reported by

Kopacek KEG
Austria
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