Closed-Loop Recycling of Copper from Waste Printed Circuit Boards Using Bioleaching and Electrowinning Processes

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In the present study, a model of closed-loop recycling of copper from PCBs is demonstrated, which involves the sequential application of bioleaching and electrowinning to selectively extract copper. This approach is proposed as part of the solution to resolve the challenging ever-increasing accumulation of electronic waste, e-waste, in the environment. This work is targeting copper, the most abundant metal in e-waste that represents up to 20% by weight of printed circuit boards (PCBs). In the first stage, bioleaching was tested for different pulp densities (0.25–1.00% w/v) and successfully used to extract multiple metals from PCBs using the acidophilic bacterium, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans. In the second stage, the method focused on the recovery of copper from the bioleachate by electrowinning. Metallic copper foils were formed, and the results demonstrated that 75.8% of copper available in PCBs had been recovered as a high quality copper foil, with 99 + % purity, as determined by energy dispersive X-ray analysis and Inductively-Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry. This model of copper extraction, combining bioleaching and electrowinning, demonstrates a closed-loop method of recycling that illustrates the application of bioleaching in the circular economy. The copper foils have the potential to be reused, to form new, high value copper clad laminate for the production of complex printed circuit boards for the electronics manufacturing industry. Graphic Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-press)
Number of pages12
JournalWaste and Biomass Valorization
Early online date29 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jun 2020

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  • Bioleaching
  • Copper recovery
  • Electrowinning
  • Printed circuit boards
  • Recycling
  • WEEE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Waste Management and Disposal

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