Retrieving valuable trace elements from discarded waste
In 2019 the value of materials present in urban waste in Europe, in discarded electrical and electronic equipment, approached €11 billion. This waste contains ‘technology critical elements’ (TCE) such as rhodium and platinum used in many high technology applications, including energy-efficient devices. Available amounts of TCE are limited, or located outside of Europe, and the EC has identified TCE recycling as a priority of the circular economy agenda. The amended Waste Framework Directive (2018/851/EU) also contains updated targets for element recycling. However only a few laboratories in Europe have the ability to accurately measure TCE waste content and this, along with a lack of certified reference materials, limits both the quality of recycling and the ability of analysis laboratories to comply with quality control requirements, such as ISO/IEC 17025.
This project will develop validated, SI-traceable reference methods and materials to determine the amounts of 14 different TCE in urban waste at parts-per-million levels. These will then undergo inter-laboratory comparisons involving at least 10 industrial laboratories using various analysis techniques including X-ray fluorescence. This will lead to new instrument calibration material, at least one TCE certified reference material and improved methods for onsite TCE analysis.
Project outputs will be disseminated via workshops, training and a guide for representative sampling in urban mining. Results will allow testing laboratories to better comply with quality control requirements and help individual countries meet European TCE objectives. Furthermore, the more readily available methodology and materials will allow faster, reliable methods to determine the economic value of both the waste and the recovered product.