Centre d’innovació i Tecnologia BARCELONATECH

BIOMETALLUM PROJECT: RECOVERY OF METALS FROM ELECTRIC AND ELECTRONIC WASTE, BIOGAP GROUP

15/02/2018

The business project Bioextraction of Metals from Disused Electronic Equipment (Biometallum) is a business proposal based on the design, construction, and installation of plants for extracting valuable metals from disused electrical and electronic equipment, and advisory and maintenance services for installations.

 

The project came out of results obtained by the Biological treatment of Odours and Gaseous Pollutants (BIOGAP) research group, comprised of researchers from the Department of Mining, Industrial, and ICT Engineering of the UPC, based in the Manresa School of Engineering (EPSEM)

The promoters of this business idea took the principles of the circular economy and urban mining to offer an economically advantageous solution, adapted to the specific characteristics of each company that manages electrical and electronic waste. The solution promotes waste recovery as an alternative source of the metals that are in great demand in the current technological society. In short, the aim is to increase the value of waste by taking advantage of its high metal content and offering an economical, sustainable technology based on a biotechnological process.

The technology that has been developed uses the capacity of certain microorganisms to regenerate the agents that are responsible for separating metal components from the complex matrices in which they are found. These microorganisms feed on the scrap metal in the electronic boards of certain devices, such as mobile phones, to separate material that is not useful and recycle the recoverable metals. This physical phenomenon, the bioextraction of metals, is being studied by a UPC research group led by Antonio David Dorado and Montserrat Solé
 
In the process, electronic waste containing metals of interest such as copper, gold, chrome, zinc, nickel, and aluminium, is put into contact with bacteria adapted to extract the metals, which can then be used again. Instead of attacking the waste chemically, advantage is taken of the oxidisation capacity of certain microorganisms under controlled conditions. This dramatically reduces the use of reagents and the energy consumption. 

The technique has already been applied to printed circuit boards of mobile phones, but it could easily be adapted to other kinds of electronic waste such as televisions, computers, or fridges.

A more economical, less contaminating alternative

The proposal presented here is an alternative to the conventional processes that are used today. These require high energy expenditure and high consumption of aggressive reagents, which have a negative impact on the environment and make it impossible for most waste managers to use them. Consequently, companies must sell waste at a lower price than the value of the metals it contains.

The business proposal is aimed at waste management companies and related businesses. In Catalonia alone, there are 250 companies of this type, grouped together under the Gremi de Recuperació de Catalunya (Catalan Recovery Guild). Initially, Catalan companies will be approached, then the proposal will be extended to the rest of the Spanish market, and within a period of five to six years it will be offered on the International market. According to the researchers’ analysis, it will take 2.8 years to see returns on the investment. 
 
The research project undertaken prior to obtaining the product was part of, and financed by, the Government of Catalonia’s Industrial Knowledge Programme, with European Regional Development Funds. It was judged to be among the five best proposals and chosen as a successful case to be included in the presentation of the next call for applications for the programme. The product resulting from the research is being protected by a patent.

Funding and promotion of entrepreneurship

On 13 February, Biometallum received the Business Development Initiatives Prize, promoted by the Association of Senior Professionals in the Service of the Territory (Gest!) and the Obra Social La Caixa, with the support of Manresa City Council, Manresa School of Engineering (EPSEM) and Bages University Foundation (FUB).

The Business Development Initiatives Prize, which is organised jointly by Gest!, CaixaBank, Manresa City Council’s Business Development Centre (CEDEM), EPSEM of the UPC, and the Bages University Foundation (FUB), is worth 5,000 euros that is given by CaixaBank, which also offers funding to promote the winning proposal. Gest!, CEDEM, EPSEM, and the FUB assess and support the result of the candidates for the prize that have presented viable proposals, in order to promote entrepreneurship and generate new jobs.

 

More information: Jordi Martín
Senior Industrial Liaison Officer
Phone: 93.4054690
Email: info.cit@upc.edu