The alchemists: Kiwi companies turning E-waste into gold

Icehouse Ventures

A commercial facility for salvaging high-value metals such as gold, silver and palladium from electronic waste is being planned, after a partnership deal between two Kiwi companies. 

Mint Innovation and Remarkit Solutions have signed a deal to build the factory and expand the company across the country, and then internationally.

New Zealand Cleantech company Mint Innovation has developed the low-cost recovery process using specialised microorganisms which purify the metals from e-waste in what chief executive Will Barker says is an environmentally benign process.

"Our team, led by Dr Ollie Crush, has successfully extracted precious metals on a small scale and it is now time to take the technology further," Barker said.

 "With Remarkit we can continue its development in New Zealand. The scaled-up facility in Auckland will initially process up to 200 tonnes of old circuit boards per annum."
Barker said the lower cost model meant the company could process a much smaller amount compared to regular smelters in order to break even, giving it scalability.

"It's very exciting for us - we have developed a technology that we are very satisfied can be scaled and taken global and the first step for us is to build a New Zealand facility," Barker said.

"We're currently looking at Wellington and Auckland [for the facility], and Remarkit as a leading e-waste recycler is a key partner to enable us to have access to the waste that we need to process." 

Barker said the current process for most e-waste was for it to be broken into parts and sent to various areas of the world that could break it down into specific metals.

With the new factory, however, most of the process could be done in New Zealand.
 "We know the Government is keen to keep e-waste out of landfills and New Zealand being named and shamed in a report on e-waste by the UN-funded International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in late last year has certainly sharpened our focus."
The ITU report said that e-waste around the world contained more than 55 billion euros ($93.2b) worth of recoverable materials – including an estimated 19 billion euros of gold.
Barker said the company had already been processing e-waste but the deal would enable them to scale up.
He would not disclose the cost of processing the e-waste other than to say it was 'significantly' cheaper than other processes currently available.
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