Precious e-waste

DQW Bureau
23 Mar 2010


Precious metals on the earth are getting exhausted, and soon there will be no

metals left to help in the innovation primarily for the development of green

technology equipments. Proper recovery guidelines need to be included in the

e-waste policies.

Mines are getting deeper, and

extraction of precious metals

is getting exhausted

Rolf Widmer, Project Manager

Laboratory for Technology and Society EMPA

"Day-by-day mines are getting deeper, and extraction of precious metals is

getting exhausted. In another decade or so we will be touching the peak

extraction level of precious metals," said Rolf Widmer, Project Manager,

Laboratory for Technology and Society, EMPA.


He pointed out that environmentalists talk about using energy from the sun as

an alternative to fossil fuel, but there is a need to have metals that can be

used to make solar cells at a reasonable price.

"The big hype about cheap solar cells has to do with the new composition of

metals that can make thin film photo-voltaic cells. Tellurium, a rare metal that

can absorb light much better than any other silicon material being currently

used to make PV cells. Total production of tellurium is 150 pounds per year. It

is being used in semiconductors, but the real use of tellurium is in making PV

cells," said Widmer.

Other rare metals like gallium and indium are also being used to make

products related to information and communication technology. Gallium is being

used to make LEDs, laser lights and other semiconductors. Indium is being used

to make flat screens for televisions, computers and mobile phones.


"These metals should be used to make PV cells to make them less expensive and

more efficient. These metals are important for meeting our energy needs," said


According to Widmer, all these metals after reaching their peak extraction in

the next five to ten years will still be available but at very high prices.

Precious metals could soon vanish in the

absence of proper e-waste guidelines

"Today gold is of high price because it is said that gold reached its peak

extraction time some ten years ago. Around 20 percent of gold, 10-50 percent of

indium, gallium and tellurium are used for making ICT and electronics products,"

said Widmer.

He added that there is technology available to recover these metals, but

pointed out that the policies of the government on e-waste lack proper

instructions to recover these metals.

"Economy depends a lot on the recovery of metals. Without availability of

metals, you cannot implement technology. You can observe that ICT is linked to

metals, and some of them are scarce. We cannot afford to lose these materials

and should focus on their recovery," said Widmer.


Government of India in mid-December announced to come up with a draft

legislation on e-waste. Widmer stressed that India should include proper

guidelines for recovery of rare metals which no one has done so far.

When MAIT-one of the key industry bodies in formulating the draft of e-waste

legislation-was asked, its executive director, Vinnie Mehta said that the draft

legislation contains very broad points on e-waste.

Mehta says, "Recovery targets are not part of the legislation. It will come

in the guidelines on a time-to-time basis. Recovery of metals depends on the

quality of waste that comes to the recycler. The more precious the metal, the

more will be its value for the recycler. At present, we are only aware of the

draft legislation. Once the legislation is formed and we are able to see the

shape of this legislation, then we will work on the guidelines with the

government to make it more clear and broad for the industry."

Prasoon Srivastava

Courtesy: CIOL