As the most precious of all precious metals, gold has captured the imagination of mankind since the dawn of time. Its historic popularity is due to a variety of beneficial properties including malleability, high ductility, and corrosion resistance. It is also very rare compared to other surface metals. Its luster also adds to its appeal as jewelry. Gold is even used in constructing a wide range of spacecraft components.
For a century after century, gold was provided by various hard rock, plaster, and even manual mining methods. Today, an increasingly popular method of providing or maintaining the volume of gold in circulation comes from the newly developing niche of gold recycling.
Some of the more obvious forms of gold recycling include jewelers who buy back old gold jewelry, as well as commercial recyclers who separate out things like circuit boards and other major electrical components. Another new process that is still in its infancy is E-Waste recycling, which focuses on collecting gold and other precious metals from discarded consumer electronics.
What Are Some Of The Best Sources For Recycled Gold?
Given that gold has so many uses in the modern world, there are different ways to processes it. With all these methods the primary factor that must be considered is overall efficiency. While this affects the process of choice, such as acid reduction, or grinding and smelting, the value of the gold sought after from the source must also be considered.
With this in mind, there are essentially two different types or grades of source material when it comes to gold recycling, and the best practices needed to maximize the yield.
High-Value Recycled Gold – Is the most profitable, efficient, and currently accounts for the highest value. Currently, HVRG makes up approximately 90% of the total recycled gold supply worldwide. It largely consists of typical things you might expect like old gold jewelry, gold bars, gold rounds, and gold numismatic coins.
Within this category, the karats or the purity of the gold can also be a factor. Take for example something like white gold in jewelry. The white or silvery sheen is actually due in large part to a portion of palladium which is blended in as an alloy. This means that alloys of gold also need to be considered in one or more stages of the gold recovery process.
Separating out the various metals from one another is relatively simple. Some gold recycling companies and refineries even use sophisticated chemical or physical separation processes to maximize efficiency. There are yet other refiners who simply separate the simply by heating and melting them. There are even some specialist jewelers who have the equipment on hand to do this same thing on a smaller scale.
Yet most of these techniques are not sufficient for refining gold to its higher levels of purity. This can ultimately limit total profitability. In order to reach more desirable levels of purity, a refinery needs to employ more complex procedures that often rely on sophisticated chemical reactions.
A few examples of this include things like the aqua regia process, where the gold alloy is essentially dissolved in strong acids. The gold can then be recovered electrolytically through the complex Wohlwill process. This allows for the removal of residual metals like platinum and palladium to yield some of the highest purity gold which is popular in consumer markets.
However, the aqua regia process cannot be used to efficiently separate and recycle things like silver. To this, another type of chemical process will be required, which is largely only available for large-scale refiners.
What Is Industrial Recycled Gold?
The other primary gold recycling category is more commonly referred to as Industrial Recycled Gold. Also known as IRG it makes up the remaining 10% of recycled gold that reenters the market. This segment of gold recycling is on the move and shows growth, up from a little less than 5% just a decade ago.
This category of recovered gold comes from things like E-Waste and commercial precious metal recycling. Many consumer electronics like phones, wireless devices, scanners, printers, and laptops have a small amount of gold and other precious metals in them. Many also have semi-precious metals like copper and aluminum either in their circuitry or in structural components.
Sometimes referred to as “Urban Mining” this process shows that it is in the early stages of developing into a more prosperous endeavor. There are even current recycling companies who are implementing gold and other precious metal recycling into their existing practices. This includes Aluminum Company of America or ALCOA which trades on the New York Stock Exchanges as AA. The Appliance Recycling Centers of America, or ARCA which trades on the Nasdaq as ARCI. Even the giant refuse service Waste Management is getting involved in recycling industrial and consumer gold sources.
While these large-scale corporations are more likely to lead the way in the industrial gold recycling industry, they aren’t the only ones with a foot in the door. There are researchers, entrepreneurs, and nationally backed organizations in Australia and especially China, who is set to take on the mountainous challenge of E-Waste recycling.
What Is Gold Smelting?
Gold has different purity levels depending on what other metals, minerals, and materials that might be blended with it. With raw ore mined from the ground, these other substances are called slag. With industrially recycled gold, you are most often talking about an alloy formed when gold is blended with another material.
On a molecular level gold will only bond with itself and will not form a compound with any other substance known to science. Smelting is a relatively straight forward process that uses extremely high heat, special chemicals, and sometimes pressure to separate gold from these other substances.
The other metals can then be removed. Those with value like platinum-group metals can be separated for further refining and recycling. What is left behind is very pure gold. Some of the best refiners are even capable of producing 99.99% pure 24 karat gold from their processes.