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
"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.
"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,"
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.
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 said, "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."