Britain's Royal Mint said it plans to build a plant in Wales to recycle hundreds of kilograms of gold and other precious metals from electronic waste such as mobile phones and laptops.
Both gold and silver are highly conductive, and small amounts are embedded in circuit boards and other hardware along with other precious metals. Most of these materials are never recycled, and discarded electronics are often dumped in landfills or incinerated.
The mint, which is more than 1,100 years old, said it has partnered with a Canadian startup called Excir to develop chemical solutions to extract metals from circuit boards.
Mint manager Sean Millard says the program is designed to selectively extract precious metals of high purity. The Mint is currently using the scheme on a small scale while designing a factory. It is hoped that by disposing of hundreds of tons of e-waste each year, hundreds of kilograms of precious metals can be generated. He also said the plant should be operational "in the next few years."
According to the Financial Times, the latest data from Eurostat, the European Union's statistical office, show that British gold exports to Switzerland, a key destination for the gold refining industry, rose to 798 tonnes in the first six months of this year from 83 tonnes in the same period last year. This export value of 29 billion euros, equivalent to nearly 30% of the world's annual gold production.
British gold exports have risen almost tenfold, with analysts suggesting the metal is moving from vaults in London to refineries in Switzerland and eventually to consumers in Asia amid plunging prices. With gold prices still on a downward path, the scale of UK exports in the first half of this year could mean that western investors are losing their enthusiasm for gold and that ownership is shifting on a large scale.
London is one of the centres of the global gold market, with bankers estimating that the City's vaults, including the Bank of England's, hold about 10,000 tonnes of gold, much of it held by investors and central banks. Australia's Macquarie bank analysis believes that because the United Kingdom does not have gold resources, gold ETF funds (a gold based asset, tracking the volatility of the spot gold price of financial derivatives) is the main source of its gold. The bulk of Britain's gold exports in the first half of this year came from this. According to the World Gold Council previously released data show that in the second quarter of 2012 gold ETF accumulated outflows of 402.2 tons of gold, no doubt the UK's selling accounted for its main component.
Since the beginning of this year, market investors have sold gold on a large scale, causing the price of gold to fall sharply. While the recent wave of investor selling has begun to slow, with gold hitting a two-month high on Monday, prices are still hovering near three-year lows. In the context of falling gold prices, British investors began to sell gold for reasons such as value preservation; At the same time, the decline in international gold prices has also stimulated the growth of global demand for gold, especially in emerging markets in Asia. In the first half of this year, China's demand for gold rose 54% from a year earlier, according to the China Gold Association. The London Bullion Market Association said that the volume of gold trading in the London market in June was 900 tons, worth $39 billion, a 12-year record, and physical demand for gold from Asia, especially China and India, was particularly strong, which also stimulated Western investors such as the United Kingdom to sell gold.
As gold moved from the West to Asia, business for traders and smelters took off. In the first half of the year Swiss smelters such as Mattel were doing brisk business, melting down large 400-ounce bars from London vaults and recasting them into smaller products favoured by Asian buyers. One senior gold trader said: "The Swiss work three or four shifts a day to keep the smelters running non-stop.