Science: Getting Precious Metals from Electronic Waste

The Story:

A new process developed at Rice University allows for the extraction of valuable metals from electronic waste, that is, the insides of discarded cell phones and the like. The new process would use up to 500 times less energy than do current methods.


The process is called “flash Joule heating,” after a 19th century English physicist, James Prescott Joule.

“Flash Joule heating” means the use of a jolt of electricity sufficient to vaporize the precious metals. The gases can then be vented away for separation, storage, or disposal.

The process is a win-win-win for the environment. The e-waste has to be disposed of and the flash joule method does so more efficiently than others; it also leaves a byproduct with minimal metal content, easy to dispose of without toxicity; and it allows for the recycling of those metals vented away. The recovered metals can be quite precious.

Strange New Worlds:

The chemist who developed the method, James Tour of Rice University, says that with Flash Joule as a source of precious metals, “urban mining” would remove the need to “go all over the world to mine from ores in remote and dangerous places, stripping the Earth’s surface and using gobs of water resources.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.