New research provides the key to the pot of gold in your old phone

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New research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has demonstrated how large amounts of gold can be extracted from mobile phones.

The study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh shows how the method can be used to salvage the precious metal from old mobile devices, with as much as seven per cent of the world's gold believed to be contained in electrical waste.

They have developed a new extraction method that reduces the use of toxic chemicals and is far more efficient than current procedures.

The news, as reported by the BBC and The Times, could be a starting point for developing new processes for the mass recovery of gold contained in electrical waste such as mobile phones, televisions and computers.

Gold is used in printed circuit boards inside such devices, with an estimated 300 tonnes used in electronics every year.

In their study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the team discovered a new compound that can be used to extract it when the boards are placed in an acid to dissolve their metal components.

The new compound, when used in an oily liquid which is added to the acid, led to gold being extracted from the mixture of the other metals.

The team from Edinburgh believe their findings could help to reduce the environmental impact of gold mining and cut carbon dioxide emissions, while allowing for materials to be reused.

It is also less hazardous than current methods for gold extraction, which often use toxic chemicals such as cyanide.

Professor Jason Love, from the university's School of Chemistry, said: We are very excited about this discovery, especially as we have shown that our fundamental chemical studies on the recovery of valuable metals from electronic waste could have potential economic and societal benefits.

Reference: PN 44-16