Enea (national agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development) has developed a new process for the recovery of materials and metals from end-of-life mobile phones as part of the PORTENT project co-financed by the Lazio Region . A ton of electronic cards of mobile phones contains on average 276 g of gold, 345 g of silver, 132 kg of copper, but if we consider other components, such as magnets and integrated antennas, the list also includes rare earths (2.7 kg per ton of smartphone).
Danilo Fontana, ENEA researcher and head of the PORTENT project explains: “The quantity of waste from electrical and electronic equipment is growing, above all due to ever shorter technical obsolescence times. This phenomenon could generate serious management problems linked to the presence of metals and harmful substances that represent a real risk for human health and the environment “. 2020 saw a significant increase in the collection of this type of waste: nationally it exceeded 78 thousand tons (+ 7.68% compared to 2019). Among these wastes, mobile phones are the electronic devices of greatest interest due to the valuable and strategic materials they contain.
Fontana again: “The trend of Italian entrepreneurs dealing with recycling is to stop at the simpler but less profitable treatment and recycling phases, such as shredding and separation of plastics and metals, leaving foreign operators the advantage to recover the “noble” part of the waste, in particular the electronic cards rich in metals such as gold, silver, palladium and copper. Starting from our skills in this sector, in synergy with Sapienza University of Rome, we want to develop an innovative process for the recovery of materials from disused cell phones for the completion of the supply chain, which now stops at the foreign trade of the stocks of separate materials. Thanks to current technologies it is possible to recycle over 96% of these electronic devices, recovering significant quantities of precious metals with high degrees of purity. This would make it possible to avoid the depletion of natural resources and the procurement of some of these critical raw materials present mainly in politically unstable countries “.