PCBs (printed circuit boards) are boards made of insulating material (mainly glass-epoxy laminates (TSE) or composite materials), covered with a thin layer of copper foil, onto which a pattern of paths constituting electrical connections is printed. There are also conductive elements made of nickel, silver, gold and tin on their surface. They are used as a construction basis in most electronic devices. All components are mounted on them.
PCB processing chain
Source: the Company, Vestor DM
The processing of printed circuit boards and integrated circuits begins with the partly manual and partly automated demolition of devices containing PCBs. Another step is to sort the boards according to the gold content into two categories: low grade (with gold content of 0-50/70 g of gold per ton) and high grade (with gold content > 120 g of gold per ton), then they are cleaned of aluminum and iron parts, crushed into flakes with an area of about 1 cm2and sent to recipients in this form. Before being sent to the steelworks, the material is valued on the basis of conditions described in the contract with the steelworks – the estimated content of precious metals and established LME rates. On the basis of such a valuation, the steelworks makes prepayment. After receiving the material, the steelworks performs a detailed analysis based on which the final settlement is made. Main customers of the Elemental Holding Group companies in this segment are Japanese and Korean steelworks.
METALS RECOVERED FROM PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARDS
PER 1 TON IN TESLA RECYCLING
PCB PROCESSING STAGES
Source: the Company, Vestor DM
PCB recycling market
Technological development of recent years – digitalization of most areas of life and development of communication – have resulted in significantly increased demand for electronic devices and, in consequence for printed circuit boards. Today, the demand for PCBs is generated by manufacturers of electronic devices, aerospace and defense industries, manufacturers of imaging diagnostics equipment and cars. At the same time, the useful life of EEE containing PCBs has shortened.
A factor influencing the popularity of PCBs was and continues to be the growing use of the Internet in everyday life. The last of the trends driving the demand on the PCB market is the implementation of the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). As part of the IoT, for example household appliances collect and exchange data using a computer network or intelligent electrical installation (KNX). A second phenomenon affecting the popularity of PCBs, which may become more important in the future, are so-called connected cars, i.e. cars with Internet connection, thanks to which their owners can connect with them using mobile devices, but more importantly, the Internet in cars can be used as a source of information about traffic problems, for intelligent navigation or in the future used by self-steering systems. According to Intel's estimates, in the future, a car will process an estimated 1 GB of data per second, only as part of the security functions.
A growing demand for PCBs translates into higher consumption of metals used to make them, mainly copper, silver, gold, and palladium. Obtaining them in a cheaper way than traditional mining becomes more and more important.
The lifecycle of EEE depends on the quality of their performance, the quality of materials used and the possibilities of repairing, improving or replacing batteries, but also on consumer habits and their expectations. Due to the rapid development of technology and the wide range of EEE, consumers are more and more willing to replace a functioning EEE only to gain access to the most modern solutions.
According to the Management Board, the ELEMENTAL Group is a leader on the European PCB recycling market. Subsidiaries of Elemental Holding operate in the area of recycling of printed circuit boards, which aims at recovering from them, inter alia, copper, gold, silver and palladium. The company's production capacity in the PCB segment is estimated at approx. 40 t annually.
The Elemental Holding group of companies operating in the PCB segment are: