You wouldn’t know it from looking at them, but there was something a bit different about the medals at the Tokyo Olympics: They were made from discarded laptops and phones.
Every medal that was presented to athletes at the event was made from metal obtained from recycled consumer electronics, an example of the vast and mostly untapped potential in this form of urban mining.
In this process, circuit boards can be saved from old computers, mobile phones, gaming consoles and washing machines, with precious metals then salvaged.
This is a low-carbon circular economy alternative to mining, and can help to ensure that no by-product goes to waste. It also accelerates the adoption of circular economy practices, with the mined ‘green’ gold then sold on to be used in new electronics or other devices.
The United Nations estimates that 7 per cent of the world’s gold could be hidden in electronic waste, and just 20 per cent of electronic waste is actually recycled. Each year, it is estimated that more than $80 billion worth of valuable metals are discarded in consumer waste.
Mint Innovation is looking to capitalise on the wealth of potential on offer in old and discarded electronics.
It is the world’s first company to use natural biomass and smart chemistry to extract green metals from waste commercially, with its easy to deploy technology able to mine waste where it is collected.
Founded by Will Barker and Ollie Crush in 2016, Mint Innovation is headquartered in Auckland, with a biorefinery factory in Sydney.
Mint Innovation’s factory works by putting the circuit boards of old devices through a conveyor belt, where a hammer mill breaks them down to the size of sand granules. It then uses a chemical process and natural biomass to separate the metals and then bake them into a gold-laden ash.
This can then be sold back to manufacturers, which can turn them into new electronics primarily and also other goods such as medical devices and jewellery.
The company offers this as a low-carbon alternative to mining, and its Sydney facility can process 3000 tonnes of circuit boards annually.
In Australia only about 7 per cent of mined gold goes into new electronics, with Mint Innovation looking to capitalise on the opportunity to supply the demand in the sector.
Mint Innovation has landed a $55 million investment from the impact investing branch of Australian privacy equity firm Liverpool partners, and also previously raised a $NZ20 million Series B round in 2020.
It received a $4.2 million grant from the Australian government through the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
The company has also accessed research and development grants and research programs.
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