>Metals Reclamation from Electronic Products
>Talk by Charles Beckman
>Charles Beckman is Vice President of Sales at Micro Metallics,
>San Jose. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Micro Metallics
>was formed in 1972 to meet the reclamation needs of the
>electronics industry. Micro Metallics uses a highly technical
>metallurgical process to recover gold, silver, platinum,
>palladium and copper from precious metal bearing products
>such as integrated circuits and printed circuit boards, while
>maintaining sound environmental policies.
>Micro Metallics was acquired by Noranda Inc. in 1984 and
>continues to be an integral part of Noranda's world wide
>precious metal recycling activities.
>Charles will describe the process of precious metals recovery,
>how the industry has evolved over the last 25 years and what
>changes can be expected in the future.
Charles Beckman began by explaining that Noranda had bought Micrometalics when their copper mines in Canada had begun to play out. From the original plant in San Jose, they had grown by adding a huge Roseville Operation (also in California), and one in East Providence, Rhode Island. All of the copper they mine from industrial scrap is sent to the Noranda Smelter in Quebec, which is still a huge facility despite the fact the mine closed in 1976.
Beckman continued by giving an overview of the process that his company puts the circuit boards they get through. First the things are chopped up into pieces the size of a quarter, and then ground fine. After being pulverized it is ground up in a ball mill and baked, after which the metallic stuff is separated from the ash. He did not say what happens to the ash, but he assured us that all California laws about the stuff are obeyed.
The metallic pieces are diluted with copper and melted into bar form. The bar metal is then electrolyzed so that the pure copper is separated from the rest, which falls out as a sludge containing silver, gold, and other precious metals like palladium and platinum. This material generally amounts to less than a pound a ton, and goes through other processing to be refined to 99.99% purity.
Beckman then explained that the vast majority of his business comes from the assembly lines of companies like Hewlett Packard and Texas Instruments that are willing to invest a little for the sake of the environment by giving their rejected lots to someone that can reclaim the value of the metals in them. He expects this to be the case as long it is legal for a consumer to throw away one computer, even thought it is illegal for a company to throw away 40,000 of them, which is somewhat equivalent.
Beckman had depressing things to say about the economics of recycling computers. He felt that there was not enough metal in one to recover the handling charge of disassembling them. For this reason, the only way he could see to keep them out of landfills was to have local governments pay for the disassembly. He said they should be willing to do that because it keeps their landfills from having toxic leechate, a predictable result of letting rain fall on the lead in PC boards.
During the Q&A, one guy talked about getting $400 from a recycler for the PC boards that he had collected in his garage. Beckman explained that such recyclers are independent of his company, but many of them sell to him. Micrometalics isn't interested until you start talking about something like 40,000 pieces, because they need to keep their line going to get economies of scale that can keep them in business, and small volumes don't do it.
Because so much of his business comes from big computer company assembly lines, Beckman can see swings in the economy coming. For example, six months ago they were doing gangbusters business, but now it looks like time to throttle back. He knows that about three months after the computer business starts to pick up, his will to. It has been as predictable as the sunrise for many years.