We are in a boom of technological advancements and innovations. The trio of silver (Ag), gold (Au), and platinum group metals (PGMs) emerge as a key factor shaping our modern world. As we delve into their extensive applications and societal significance, we unravel the journey of these metals from extraction to recovery, emphasizing the importance of sustainable practices in industrial streams with a focus on environmental stewardship.
Precious Metals Value Drivers:
- Silver (Ag): The high conductivity of Ag is harnessed in a spectrum of applications including electronics, solar panels, batteries, and medical devices. Additionally, Ag has remarkable antimicrobial properties providing impact in the healthcare and medical industries where it aids in preventing infections and improving overall patient care.
- Gold (Au): Beyond its traditional role in jewelry and bullion, gold is an essential component in electronics, aerospace technology, and medical devices. These non-traditional uses account for roughly 6% of the consumption of the annual supply. Because it is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, gold is used extensively in the electronics industries in items such as printed circuits and in transistors. The circuitry of computers, calculators, televisions, telephones, and fire detectors are often plated with gold. Gold is also used in cars within the anti-lock brake and airbag deployment systems. Its non-reactive nature and excellent conductivity make it indispensable in critical components like microprocessors and connectors.
- Platinum Group Metals: PGMs, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium, are renowned catalysts. Widely used in automotive catalytic converters, they play a vital role in reducing harmful emissions. PGMs also find applications in fuel cells, electronics, and the chemical industry. These are all critical to the electrification and decarbonization of our society. Over 70% of the consumption is for catalytic converters to reduce automotive emissions. The emergence of electric vehicles will see a reduction in need for catalytic converters, but a rise in need for PGMs in the power train electronic components.
Source of Precious Metals:
Madison Trust Company’s 2021 Geological Survey indicates that most precious metal source material come from mining activities around the world, accounting for ~80% of the global output. The remaining ~20% comes from recycling and recovery activities. Mexico is the leading producer of silver while China, Russia, and Australia dominate the gold mining activities and production. South Africa and Russia are the leaders in PGMs production with > 300 tons/year combined. There are significant negative environmental and societal impacts caused by the mining activities to produce the metals. Deforestation, soil erosion, water/air pollution, as well as large greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are driving severe global consequences. Local communities and downstream communities face exposure to hazardous and toxic chemicals leading to health problems and neurological disorders. These large mining operations may necessitate the relocation of communities, disrupting established social structures and cultural practices. Addressing these negative impacts requires a holistic approach, incorporating sustainable mining practices, stringent environmental regulations, and community engagement to ensure responsible resource extraction and minimize harm to the environment and communities.
Recovery Importance & Execution:
Miningweekly.com published an article indicating that GHG emissions for recycled PGMs are 95% less than mined PGMs. A major focus for sustainable production of precious metals is to increase the amount of the supply that comes from recycled sources and reduce the environmental burden of mining. PGM mining requires a massive CO2 footprint for energy, extraction and hauling fuel, and chemical usage. Over 20,000 tons of CO2 are emitted for every ton of PGM mined and refined. Sustainable mining practices can only do so much in terms of reducing the CO2 footprint, while little has been done to improve the societal impact. A significant increase in recycling as well as improvements in recycling efficiency is required to reduce the CO2 footprint and reduce community impact.
Most recycling opportunities come from scrap electronics, scrap catalytic converters, and other devices and components. The current best practices are to either (1) grind components down, remove plastics, and send off to a smelter, or (2) take the same ground up material, apply significant sustained high temperatures, and then recover the precious metals with a hydrometallurgical process. The problem with this is that it uses the same general processes and chemicals as those used in virgin mining. Both methods still result in elevated CO2 footprints. The main challenges to overcome and make a lasting impact for PGM recovery are the complicated streams that are produced and the lack of removal and recovery innovations enabling cost effective recovery and recycling.
The ElectraMet® Advantage
ElectraMet is a purpose-driven organization in pursuit of sustainable and ethical recovery of precious metals. The driving factor in this recovery is cost dictated by removal & recovery efficiency. These efficiencies make or break the cost effectiveness of recycling.
ElectraMet’s precious metals recovery solutions are designed to meet the specific needs of different recyclers and refiners. ElectraMet offers the highest level of target selectivity available to recover precious metals from simple and complex streams while reducing the complexity and environmental impact of recovery. ElectraMet’s hardware, software, and support leads to elevated process simplification through automation and real-time removal awareness, improving the economics and sustainability of the operation.
ElectraMet’s process is chemical-free and eliminates secondary waste streams. We offer innovative treatment technologies with real-time monitoring, ensuring removal of targeted PGMs and enhancing speed to revenue. In addition to our processing systems, we also offer a range of services to help our customers manage their processing needs. We provide system design and installation, as well as ongoing maintenance and support to ensure that our treatment systems are operating at maximum efficiency.
The versatile applications and societal benefits of Ag, Au, and PGMs underscore their indispensability in our quest for progress. As we champion sustainable practices, the recovery of these precious metals from industrial streams becomes a cornerstone of responsible resource management. Join us in shaping a future where innovation, technology, and environmental consciousness coalesce, creating a legacy of progress for generations to come. Explore our website and witness the transformative potential of responsible metal recovery.