Colt and N2S conduct bioleaching trial to extract precious metals
Colt Technology Services has been working with N2S for the last six months to trial an e-waste solution that uses microbiological techniques and living organisms to extract precious metals.
As Colt explained it, with bioleaching "the waste undergoes an enhanced recycling process" to identify any components made from precious and rare earth metals that are suitable for recovery.
This is followed by an in-depth analysis with the materials being ball-milled to reduce them to powder. Non-metallic elements can then be removed, and an Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectrometer (ICP-AES) is used to identify the quantity of elements.
Caroline Griffin Pain, Colt’s general counsel and EVP, HR, said: “Sustainability is a central element of our strategy, and we are continually looking at the latest green technologies, in order to reduce our impact on the environment and offer customers the ability to partner with a sustainable business.
"Within this, circular economy is key; when we replace a piece of old equipment within our business, we look at how we can keep it out of landfill and ideally within the value chain, to produce less waste overall. As a result, we’re investigating the viability of using bioleaching to recover precious metals from our own equipment, in partnership with N2S, and will be evaluating the results as we near the end of the trial.”
Gold and copper are just two of the metals that can be recovered using the technique. Colt and N2S also highlighted that bioleaching "produces no air pollution, unlike other extraction methods, such as smelting and incineration, which result in significant greenhouse gas emissions".
Steve Morris, the MD of N2S said: “It’s been really exciting to work with Colt to redefine the technology lifecycle. We are running this trial to help them understand what is contained in their end-of-life network and data centre equipment and see how it can be managed more sustainably.
“Using our unique biotechnology process, we can extract large amounts of rare earth and precious metals such as gold and copper – sometimes up to 40% of a technology circuit board is made of copper. These metals can then be re-introduced into the manufacturing process to create a circular economy, helping Colt to meet its sustainability goals.”
Established in 2002, N2S currently recycles some 250,000 IT devices per year, pledging that every part of the equipment is "recovered, recycled, reformed or restored for re-use".