Waste Not
Tetronics Helping BlueOak Reclaim Precious Metals From E-Waste

BlueOak Resources, a Burlingame, Calif.-based startup that aims to convert e-waste into a sustainable source of critical metals and rare earths, has chosen e-waste-recovery specialist Tetronics to provide plasma-refining technology for the recovery of precious metals from e-waste, first in a plant located in Osceola, Arkansas.

BlueOak says it intends to capitalize on the high demand for “technology metals” such as gold, silver, copper and palladium by creating distributed urban refineries in the US and throughout the world that recover high-value metals from e-waste. Production at the Arkansas facility will begin by the end of 2015, initially processing 15 million lbs of electronic scrap per year, with plans for rapid expansion.

In the US, consumers dispose of some 3.2 million tons of e-waste each year, and more than 80 percent of this ends up as waste. This contributes to more than 70 percent of all toxic metals in US landfills.

The main advantages of Tetronics’ plasma technology are that it combines high technical recovery rates and operational flexibility with low environmental impacts and cost base. The process chemistry is designed to symbiotically and preferentially separate and recover the valuable material in electronics waste whilst destroying any hazardous components.

Each year, around 20 to 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced worldwide, most of which is incinerated or dumped into landfills. Burning the plastic/metal combo in printed circuit boards releases toxic compounds such as dioxins and furans. In landfills, the metals on the circuit boards can contaminate groundwater.

More and more innovations are emerging to tackle e-waste. Last year, a team of Hong Kong researchers found a way to use ground-up circuit boards from discarded cell phones, computers and other gadgets to absorb toxic heavy metals found in water. And in 2012, the EPA launched an e-waste initiative with the support of several global brands that agreed to increase collection rates of used electronics and send 100 percent of the devices to third-party certified refurbishers and recyclers. Best Buy, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sprint and Staples were among the companies joining the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge, which aims to provide a transparent and measurable way for electronics companies to commit to environmentally protective practices for the refurbishment and recycling of used electronics, and publicly show progress toward recycling goals.

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