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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Innovative Hydrometallurgical processes to recover precious and critical metals from WEEE and other HighTech products

Objectives of the commitment

Electr(on)ic products and other HighTech products like cars, PV modules, …. consist of a high amount of diverse metals. According to a survey of Sullivan e.g. mobile phones have a metal content of 25%. Though the absolute amounts of each device regarding the most valuable elements are low (16g Cu, 0.35g Ag, 0.0034g Au, 0.015g Pd, and 0.00034g Pt) this adds up to e.g. 0.35t of platinum based on estimated 1 billion cell phones in 2010.

Regardless of their low amount in specific electronic components there are some metals which are highly preferred or are even essential for the present technology
Recycling of the “critical metals” according to RMI will contribute to:
• reducing the dependency of permanent supply of essential resources from non-EU countries
• boosting the European economy (cost saving for manufacturing industry, more profit in recycling companies, especially for SMEs through the mobile plant, ….)
• minimizing the toxic burden on and around the sites of mining, processing and manufacturing
• solving a waste issue of these consumer products

Description of the activities

The first FP7-Research for SMEs project HydroWEEE (01.03.2009 – 28.02.2012) dealt with the recovery of rare and precious metals from WEEE including lamps and spent batteries by hydrometallurgical processes. The idea has been to develop a mobile plant using hydrometallurgical processes to extract metals like yttrium, indium, lithium, cobalt, zinc, copper, gold, silver, nickel, lead, tin in a high purity (above 95%). By making this plant mobile (in a container) several SMEs can benefit from the same plant at different times and therefore limit the necessary quantities of waste as well as investments. By making the processes universal several fractions (lamps, CRTs – Cathode Ray Tubes, LCDs – Liquid Crystal Displays, printed circuit boards and Li-batteries) can be treated in the same mobile plant in batches. This reduces the minimum quantity per fraction per recycler even more. In addition these innovative HydroWEEE processes produce pure enough material that they can be directly used by end-users for electroplating and other applications. Because of this 2 levels of intermediaries from today (bigger recyclers and secondary material processors) will be bypassed. This will make the SMEs much more competitive than today and reverse the general trend to bigger, multinational companies in the waste management sector.

In addition this will decrease the environmental impact substantially as
• on the one hand increase substantially the resource-efficiency in Europe as a lot more precious and rare material will be recycled economically (that are currently lost) and by that decrease the amount of mining as well as landfilling and
• on the other hand the mobile plants will be transported to the recyclers´ locations instead of shipping large quantities of materials through whole Europe as it is done today.

In the previous research project a mobile pilot plant with a reactor size of 1 m3 has been developed that has been and still can be used for process development and optimisation. However in order to really demonstrate the stability, financial credibility and resource-efficiency of our innovative processes an industrial stationary plant as well as a full-scale mobile plant (4,5 m3 reactor) are currently built in our second FP7 ENV project HydroWEEE Demo (01.10.2012 – 30.09.2016). The first industrial stationary plant will go live at partner Relight in Italy in February 2014 and the first industrial mobile plant will start operating at our partner Greentronics in Romania in March/April 2014.

The demonstration objectives will have been successfully achieved when the stationary plant has been continuously run for at least 18 months giving financial profits as well as environmental benefits without any social or whatsoever shortcomings. The same success factors apply for the mobile plant being run for the same 18 months at minimum 5 locations in at least 3 countries in Europe.
In addition the previously developed processes of extracting yttrium, indium, lithium, cobalt, zinc, copper, gold, silver, nickel, lead, tin will be improved even more and new processes to recover additional metals which are still in this fractions (e.g. Cerium, Platinum, Palladium, Europium, Lanthanum, Terbium, …) from WEEE or other sectors (e.g. automotive, …) as well as innovative solutions for the integrated treatment of waste water as well as solid wastes will be developed.

Finally also the necessary pre-treatment technologies will have to be optimized to fit in an optimal way to our HydroWEEE processes and close the lack of mechanical processing equipment at the average European recycling SME. Therefore we again envisage mobile pre-treatment plants for lamps, CRTs, LCDs, Li-batteries (highly explosive), … to prepare an input granulate with about 1 mm particle size.

Summarized the objective of the HydroWEEE Commitment is to build 2 industrial scale, real-life demonstration plants (one stationary and one mobile) in order to test the performance and prove the viability of the processes from an integrated point of view (technical, economical, operational, social) including the assessment of its risks (including health) and benefits to the society and the environment as well as remove the barriers for a wide market uptake.

Description of the expected impacts

Currently several HydroWEEE partners are founding a joint spin-off company ResouTech Resource Efficient Technologies OG in Vienna, Austria to market the developed processes widely. We will offer our own mobile plants as a service to SMEs, sell tailored stationary plants to larger recyclers and also license the technology to regions in the world where we will not become active ourselves.
We see a market for 50-100 stationary as well as mobile plants until 2020. This represents roughly a turnover of 50-150 million € and the creation of about 200-300 skilled and meaningful jobs in Europe. In addition these 50-100 plants will convert about 15.000 – 30.000 tons of mostly dangerous waste into 2.000 – 5.000 tons of precious and critical metals annually.
Several WEEE collective systems (Remedia IT, ECOTIC RO, UFH AT, …) as well as the European WEEE Forum itself have already shown a lot of interest to promote our mobile plant to its recycling partners in their own interest to increase the recycling percentages as well as decrease their recycling costs.
Finally for selling tailor-made stationary plants also bigger recyclers like Electrocycling, Coolrec, Indumetal and Sims have shown already strong interest and will act as first pilot customers outside our consortium. Recycling machinery builders like ELDAN Recycling (DK) and MRT (SE) have offered to include our plant in their sales portfolio and sell it together with their solutions for the pre-treatment.
We have already signed a MoU with Solvay Rhodia to buy our rare earth metals.

Summarized HydroWEEE will boost European competitiveness by applying novel processes for improved resource efficiency by extracting rare and precious metals from WEEE and other sectors. Furthermore it will reduce Europe´s dependence on foreign raw material sources and by that make the European industry more independent and less vulnerable.

Coordinating organisation & role

Name of the coordinating organisation: Kopacek KGCountry: AustriaEntity profile: Private sector - SMERole within the commitment:

Coordinator, Business developer, responsible for setting-up and managing the spin-off Company ResouTech, shareholder of ResouTech, investor into mobile plant

Other partners

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V.

Name of the organisation: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V. Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Fraunhofer will lead the CFRP and GFRP recycling research.
Fraunhofer will perform corrosion tests on the developed materials.
Fraunhofer will work with CIDAUT on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project. Fraunhofer is the Quality Manager of the Consortium and will oversee deliverables and general reporting are produced with the best possible quality following agreed review standards.

Fundacion Cidaut

Name of the organisation: Fundacion Cidaut Country: Spain Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: CIDAUT will lead the research activities on materials recycling and compounding, implementing lab scale demonstrators of each process at its premises and, later, supporting end-users upscale the processes.
CIDAUT will perform mechanical tests, microstructural analyses, injection moulding capability studies on the developed materails, and will work with Fraunhofer on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project.

RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV)

Name of the organisation: RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV) Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: RWTH will implement the novel 3D Generative Preforming process (3D Fibre Spraying) that enables to create high-value long fibre-reinforced 3D preforms for thermoplastic and thermoset composites at low process costs (different kinds of yarn as a raw material, low tooling costs due to low cavity pressures). This cost effective technology allows to align the sprayed fibres in order to produce high-performance, engineered anisotropic products.

Universita' di Cagliari

Name of the organisation: Universita' di Cagliari Country: Italy Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: University of Cagliari is one of the leading European organization in the resin design and coupling with thermoplastic and thermose materials. University of Cagliari will support in the definition of the composite materials, both from CFRP/GFRP, ABS and Rare Earth composite material.


Name of the organisation: Relight Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: RELIGHT will work with ITRB to provide the research partners with residues for the recycled ABS supply and the REE recovery processes, including their HydroWEEE process as part of the processes to be studied and analyzed.

Piaggio Aerospace

Name of the organisation: Piaggio Aerospace Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - large company
Role within the commitment: Piaggio Aerospace is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Piaggio will assist in the compounds selection, provide Fraunhofer with specific corrosion requirements on business jet size aircraft, and will assess that the developed materials performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

Blackshape Aircrafts

Name of the organisation: Blackshape Aircrafts Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: Blackshape Aircrafts is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Blackshape will support to fulfill the requirements of the aeronautics industry on ultra light jet, light jet and trainer for Syllabus, and will assess that the developed alloys performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

KU Leuven

Name of the organisation: KU Leuven Country: Belgium Entity profile: Academia
Role within the commitment: KUL will collaborate on the balance problem studies and will lead the rare earth recovery research with the solvometallurgical and ionometallurgical processes.
KUL will also contribute to the final compounding selection.
KUL is the Dissemination Manager of the project, promoting that all partners are active on the project Dissemination.


Name of the organisation: FIDAMC Country: Spain Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: FIDAMC is going to lead the Work Package on Compression Moulding with CFRP-enhanced materials. As part of the AIRBUS Group, FIDAMC will also be able to provide the input material.
FIDAMC successfully developed a 3D Printer of own design to serve the Aerospace Industry and will be supporting Smart Lab 3D Industries in its 3D printer design.


Name of the organisation: COMPOSITE INNOVATION CENTER Country: Canada Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Composite Innovation Center is one of the world leading organization in the field of Composite materials, both from carbon fiber and vegetal-based fibers.
Composite Innovation center has successfully implemented, at lab-scale, recycling processes for CFRP and GFRP.

Existing EU Contribution: Yes

Period to implement the commitment: from 01-01-2014 to 31-12-2017