Electronics scrap - how much does it cost and what constitutes its value?

precious metals in electronics

In an age of rapidly evolving technology and a continuous increase in the consumption of electronic devices, the management of electronic waste, also known as electro-waste, is becoming a key challenge for the modern world. Electronic scrap contains not only valuable metals, but also harmful substances that can be recovered. One option is to use the services of companies specialising in this field, offering purchase of electronic scrap . They enable the professional recovery of valuable components and the safe disposal of harmful substances. In this article, we will take a closer look at what electronic scrap is, what precious metals are found in this scrap and what to do with electro-waste to contribute to environmental protection and sustainability.

Prices of electro-waste on the market vary from PLN 4 to as much as PLN 1,400 per kilogram, which testifies to the diversity and value of the raw materials contained in this waste. The value of electronic scrap is built up by the content of precious metals, which are generally more abundant in old electronics from 20-30 years ago. The older, more advanced the electronics scrap, the higher the price. 

Where are precious metals found in electronics?

Precious metals in electronics are found in PCB circuits, which consist of three main raw materials: 

  1. metals - tantalum and gallium (rare earth elements); gold, silver, platinum (precious metals); copper (semi-precious metal); chromium, lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, zinc, nickel (hazardous metals); 

  2. organic materials - plastics with admixture of polarity-reducing compounds, paper, polymers with or without admixture of chlorine and bromine, nylon and polyurethane; 

  3. ceramic materials (ceramics) - inorganic oxygen compounds with silicon, aluminium or beryllium, mica and barium titanium. 

Several types of insulating materials (laminates) are used in the manufacture of PCBs. Often their substrate is glass fibre-reinforced epoxy resin or paper saturated with phenyl resin. These laminates are admixed with organic compounds containing chlorine or bromine to reduce flammability - flame retardants (FR), for example pentabromophenol (C6Br5OH).

Conductive paths are usually made of copper (Cu). Conductive elements are also applied to the surface of the tiles from nickel (Ni), silver (Ag), gold (Au), tin (Sn) or lead-zinc alloy (Zn-Pb). Also, assembled electronic components are composed of many metals and compounds, e.g.: electronic capacitors contain tantalum (Ta), the integrated circuits are gallium mixture (Ga), indium (In), talu (Ti), silicon (Si), germanium (Ge), arsenic (As), antimony (Sb), selenium (Se) and tellurium (These) and connector circuits and ceramic components are primarily aluminium (III) oxide (Al2O3), beryllium (II) oxide (BeO) and glass.

Where do we find precious metals in scrap electronics?

Gold (Au): Gold is widely used in electronics due to its excellent electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance. It is mainly found in processors, integrated circuits, plugs, sockets, gold-plated combs and decorative components.

precious metals in electronics
precious metals

Silver (Ag): Silver is also used in electronics, especially in conductive components. Most commonly, we have silver-plated conductive connectors and silver-containing tin

silver in electronics
silver elements in electro-magnets

Palladium (Pd): Palladium is used in some types of capacitors, diodes, electrodes, transducers and also in the manufacture of some integrated circuits.

palladium in electronics
Platinum in scrap - electronics

Platinum (Pt): Although less common than gold or silver, platinum is also found in some electronic waste. Platinum can be found in thermocouples,

Tantalum core (Ta): Tantalum is used in the manufacture of capacitors, especially in tantalum capacitors.

tantalum core in purchase

And rarer ones:

  • Niobium (Nb) core: Niobium is sometimes used in capacitors.

  • Ruten (Ru): Ruthenium can be found in some integrated circuits.

  • Rhodium (Rh): Rhodium can be present in some electronic components, such as connectors.

Precious metals using RAM as an example

The RAM is an ideal example of a board to showcase the locations of precious metals. On it we can find gold-plated copper paths, integrated circuits, diodes, resistors and gold-plated/silver-plated connectors 

Precious metals

Depending on the manufacturer, the amount of precious metals in the same type of device, circuit, can vary several times as shown in the table below for DRAM:

metal content in RAM

How many precious metals are in electronic devices?

The amount of precious metals in a given device depends on the type of electronics, the materials used and the manufacturing technology. 

Below are some selected examples of the precious metal content of individual devices:

Laptop

precious metals in a laptop computer

The average laptop contains ~0.2 grams of gold

RAM

There is between 0.006 and 0.009g of gold in one RAM with gold plated combs.

Gold is found on the circuit board, the combs and in the integrated circuits

gold in RAM combs

Processors

There is a great deal of gold to be found in processors. The older the processor, the more of it there is. Here are some examples of the gold content in a single processor:

NEC (server chip - R10000) - 0.27 g 

Toshiba (server chip) - 0.27 g 

AMD K5 - 0.4 g 

Pentium Pro - 0.3 up to 0.5 g 

Cyrix 586 - 0.25 g 

Cyrix 6×86-P166+GP 133MHz - 0.22 g 

IBM 686 PR200 - 0.25 g 

Original Intel Pentium 60Mhz - 90Mhz 0.48 g 

Alpha DEC - 0.38 g Ag / 0.34 g Au 

gold in the intel processor
intel processor gold
buying Intel processors
processor board on sale
scrap processors

Cyrix 486 - 0.11 g 

IBM 586 - 0.1 g 

IBM Blue Lightning DX2 486-V580 gA - 0.11 g Texas Instruments 486 - 0.1 g 

Intel 486SX - 0.1 g 

i486 TX 486DLC - 0.12 

Cyrix 686 - 0.21 g 

Cyrix MII -0.18 g Winchip - 0.17 g 

Intel 486 DX4 - 0.19 g 

Intel 486 + DX2 - 0.20 g 

Intel I960 - 0.16 g per CPU

AMD 486 - 0.12 g  

Mobile phone (old)

In one mobile phone of the old type we find ~15g of copper, ~0.14g of silver and ~0.06g of gold 

To get as much precious metal as there is in one tonne of old-style telephones, ~1000 times more metal ore has to be mined.

precious metals in old phones
Recycling old phones

Smartphone

Aple phones have the most gold among manufactured smartphones. The average iPhone contains ~0.034g of gold. That is, there are ~136 grams of gold in one tonne of iPhone.

precious metals in smartphones

Phone and payment cards

Integrated circuits mounted on a flexible printed circuit board, which is gold-plated on both sides with a thick layer of high-quality gold contains between 13 and 25 g per kg of clean, peel-off flexible circuit board. 

gold in payment cards
gold in SIM cards

Based on our experience with the recovery of precious metals from electronic scrap, we can state that in 1 tonne of electro-waste (PCBs) prepared for precious metal recovery, precious metals can be obtained:

Copper (20%), iron (8%), tin (4%), nickel (2%), lead (2%), zinc (1%), silver (0.2%), gold (0.1%), palladium (0.005%) and other precious metals (e.g. tantalum, germanium, selenium and tellurium).

Of course, the yield of precious metals in PCBs depends on the source of the PCBs. There will be more valuable raw materials in wafers from medical, military or telecommunications equipment, much less will be in household devices.

If you have electro-waste, electronic devices or old circuit boards, connectors, gold-plated components, please contact us for pricing information.

We guarantee the best prices for electro-waste, used appliances or gold-plated and silver-plated metals such as copper, brass or aluminium.

Please contact your RMC Polska representative for more information on electronics scrap prices.

We hand over the electronics we buy to the recycling plant of RADO, which is part of the Group together with RMC Polska.