German scientists to build machine that speeds up urban mining processes

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, Germany, want to build a machine that is able to disassemble two mobile phones in one minute and remove its components to, later on, extract metals from them.

The process is known as urban mining and it aims to recover raw materials such as copper, silver, gold, neodymium, and tantalum from old electronic devices. The metals would be destined to the production of new cellphones, computers, tablets, etc.

Following the extraction of individual, larger components, a laser would be used to unsolder them from the electronic circuit board before they are sorted by type and treated differently to make them reusable.

In an interview with Horizon Magazine, Cord Fricke-Begemann from the Fraunhofer Institute said that the main challenge his team is facing right now, when it comes to the machine's design, is figuring out how to make it work with all the different types of electronics that exist.

"There are hundreds of different types of mobile phones so we need a device that is flexible and can handle all of them," Fricke-Begemann told the institutional publication.

According to the researcher, turning to this type of mining and making it more efficient would not only support the EU efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy, but it would also reduce the bloc's dependence from foreign metal providers and shield it from fluctuating prices.

According to Horizon, some urban mining already takes place in the region but it involves melting devices together in a furnace and removing the most valuable metals.