The rapid human evolution has improved the quality of our lives through the use of technology. This not only resulted in increased raw materials extraction but also in the production of a worrying amount of electronic wastes. Indeed, in 2019 worldwide production of Electronic and Electric Equipment Waste (WEEE) was worth 50 million tons, causing several disadvantages such as the reduced space in landfills and massive shipping to countries with less restrictive regulations. On the other side, the billionaire electrical devices market is causing a significant increase in Precious Metals (PM) demand. Nowadays, the economic importance of PMs is as high as their supply risk. The answer to this problem consists of finding selective methods to extract and raffinate precious metals from disposed WEEE.
On average, WEEEs contain around 30 % of plastics, 30 % ceramics, and 40 % metals; among these only around 0.1 % is characterized by PMs, such as gold, silver, rhodium, platinum, and palladium. The separation of PMs from other non-precious components is generally obtained using pyrometallurgy, which consists of fusing the wastes at temperatures up to 1500 ÷ 1700 °C. However, this method produces toxic gaseous by-products and implies high energy costs. A possible alternative is given by hydrometallurgical processes, consisting of leaching the WEEE with solutions containing acids and oxidants at temperatures lower than 100°C. One of the main issues of the hydrometallurgical process is to leach copper and other non-precious base-metals selectively while keeping PMs in the solid-state.
In this work, we report preliminary results of equilibrium and kinetic leaching tests in a well-stirred batch reactor, aimed at the optimization of the main operating parameters of a hydrometallurgical process for selective leaching of copper and other base-metals from Wasted Printed Circuit Boards (WPCBs). In particular, experiments have been carried out at different HCl and NaCl concentrations of the leaching solutions, exploring also the effect of temperature variation (20, 50, and 70 °C).