Selective recovery of base and precious metals from printed circuit board physical processing dust

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Oluokun, Oluwayimika O.
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Vaal University of Technology
Dust generated during comminution of end of life printed circuit boards (PCB), typically having d80 of 212 μm, contains copper and gold up to 6.32 % and 635 g/ton, respectively. The dust particles being highly diverse in material makeup, an hydrometallurgical processing scheme able to selectively recover target values was studied. Use of mineral acids will result in multiple metal dissolution which will complicate subsequent solution treatments. Detailed characterization of the dust was first carried out, and leaching scheme were thereafter investigated to selectively recover gold and copper from the dust, in three leaching stages. Different conditions of ammonia and thiourea leaching were investigated to optimize agitation speed, reagents concentration, temperature and leaching time. The leaching kinetics of these elements from the dust under different prevailing leaching conditions were studied. Elemental composition of the dust size fractions indicates metal contents generally increase with decreasing dust particle size, down to – 53 μm size, which contains up to 635 g/ton Au, 25.43 % Fe, and 1.40 % Cu, compared to 51 g/ton Au, 3.07 % Fe and 6.32 % Cu in the 150–212 μm fraction. Thermodynamically, under oxidative ammonia leaching, zinc and copper ammine complex is feasible, yet zinc recovery is low. For 75 – 106 μm dust size, 2 M NH4OH, 17.5 M H2O2, 1 atm. pressure and 400 rpm in Parr reactor, Cu and Zn recoveries were 92 % and 50 %, while the activation energies evaluated within 283 – 313 K gave 47.39 kJ/mol and 33.12 kJ/mol. The kinetic analysis for copper leaching gave best correlation coefficient (R2) of 0.9804 when fitted into the chemical control model, and the rate constant was 4.4 x 10-3 at 313 K. The presence of base metals frustrates direct gold recovery from the dust using thiourea with sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide. Therefore, the residue obtained from the first stage copper leach was acid washed to remove iron and other residual base metal contents with 5 M H2SO4, at 333 K, 400 rpm for 2 hours. Recovery analysis shows that about 75-98 % Fe, 54-65 % Zn and 96-98 % Ni were recovered under this condition while Cu was less than 7 % at all PSDs; copper having been selectively removed at the first stage. Using 75 – 106 μm dust fraction, gold recovery was optimum when the acid wash residue was leached with 0.5 M thiourea (SC(NH2)2), 0.5 M sulphuric acid (H2SO4), 0.1 M hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) under 1 atm. pressure, 298 K and 400 rpm for 4 hours. The recovery was 98 % Au. Using this optimum for other size fractions, over 98 % gold was recovered from 150–212 μm, 106 – 150 μm and 75 – 106 μm dust while 71 % and 68 % Au were recovered from 53 – 75 μm and – 53 μm respectively. The lower recovery at the finest sizes can be due to the quantity of the gold contents deported in this particle size, which will require higher reagent dosage. The kinetic analysis gave best correlation coefficient (R2) of 0.99 when fitted to the chemical control leaching model. From this data, a process flowsheet was proposed to give separate streams rich in copper and gold values from the processed dust, with detailed processing parameters. This is considered a readily scalable process solution for retrieving gold and copper from PCB dust.
M. Eng. (Partial Fulfillment) (Department of Metallurgical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology), Vaal University of Technology.
Metals, Dust, Printed circuit boards, Copper leach, Gold recovery