The well-being of the society depends on a number of metals, including base metals, precious metals and increasingly rare earth elements (REE). The usage of these metals increased in numerous applications, including electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), and their interrupted supply is at stake. There is an increasing interest in the secondary sources of these metals, particularly waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in order to compensate their potential supply deficit. This PhD thesis demonstrates the advantages and bottlenecks of biological and chemical approaches, as well as the advances and perspectives in the development of sustainable processes for metal recovery from WEEE. Furthermore, a novel process for the recovery of metals from WEEE is described, and a techno-economic assessment is given.
Discarded printed circuit boards (PCB) from personal computers (PC), laptops, mobile phones and telecom servers were studied. Following an extensive literature review, a novel characterization and total metal assay method was introduced and applied to waste board materials. Discarded PCB contained metals in the range of (%, by weight): copper (Cu) 17.6 - 39.0, iron (Fe) 0.7 - 7.5, aluminum (Al) 1.0 - 5.5, nickel (Ni) 0.2 - 1.1, zinc (Zn) 0.3 - 1.2, as well as gold (Au) (in ppm) 21 - 320. In addition, multi-criteria analysis (MCA) using the analytical hierarchical process (AHP) methodology was applied for selection of the best-suited technology. A proof-of-concept for a two-step bioleaching extraction is given, in which 98.4% and 44.0% of the Cu and Au, respectively, were extracted. The two-step extraction procedure was applied to the chemical leaching of metals from PCB. Cu leaching was carried in an acidic oxidative mixture of H2SO4 and H2O2, whereas Au was leached by S2O32− in a NH4+medium, catalyzed by CuSO4. Under the optimized conditions, 99.2% and 92.2% of Cu and Au, respectively, were extracted from the board material. Selective recovery of Cu from the bioleaching leachate using sulfidic precipitation and electrowinning is studied. Cu was selectively recovered on the cathode electrode at a 50 mA current density in 50 minutes, with a 97.8% efficiency and 65.0% purity. The techno-economic analysis and environmental sustainability assessment of the new technology at an early stage of development was investigated.