Recovery of metals and energy from residues of electronic scrap processing

© Fraunhofer UMSICHT

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, but currently only around 20 percent is recycled. The main reason is inadequate collection, but even with well-functioning recycling there are limits to the recovery of resources from WEEE. The main reasons for incomplete separation and sorting are glued, miniaturized or similarly non-separable or difficult to separate materials. In addition, the high plastic content prevents the increased use of these shredder residues directly in integrated copper smelters, which would make it possible to recover up to 17 metals, including copper, gold, silver and platinum group metals.

In the predecessor project “gagendta+”, Fraunhofer UMSICHT developed the iCycle process to the prototype stage. This enables the recovery of metals from heterogenous waste streams with high plastic content such as electronic waste: the process is based on pyrolysis and decomposes the plastics present in shredder residues in such a way that the metals contained are carefully concentrated. The concentrate is then used to recover the metals in integrated copper smelters. Oil and gas are produced as by-products, which can be further processed as energy sources or basic materials for the chemical industry.

The aim of the “iCycle” project is to expand the process to a scale that allows for broad industrial application. Initially, Fraunhofer UMSICHT is going to optimize the process in order to further increase product yields and quality, for example. In parallel, the companies Becklönne Maschinenbau and RSL Recycling Solutions Lippetal are working on the engineering and up-scaling of the planned demonstrator and the associated peripherals. After successful installation and commissioning of the demonstrator, the process will be evaluated and further optimized.