If you’ve never heard of urban mining, it’s time to learn about this thrilling new concept in gold and silver investments. Most gold mining happens beneath the earth’s crust, where large rocks are brought up from deep underground, and the gold is extracted for use. Urban mining is the process of extracting gold from consumer electronics, a new source of this finite and valuable element.
Take a look at all the places where gold is found on earth, and you’ll see that very little remains beneath the ground. Most gold ore has been mined by humans over the past few thousand years, as this chemical element is one of the most valuable known to man. The vast majority of all gold is already in use, in some way or another.
More than 50% of the world’s total gold supply exists in the form of jewelry, mostly in the country of India. The majority that remains is made up of gold coins and bars in storage, while some gold is used in various different industries. Dentistry and medicine both account for some gold usage, and another place you can find gold is inside solid-state electronics.
Solid-state electronics are simply electrical devices that don’t feature moving parts; this includes your mobile phone, television, refrigerator, and other appliances. Gold is incredibly useful in electronics because of its low reactivity and high conductivity, which we’ll explain in more detail in this article. Because of this, gold and other precious metals are used in almost all consumer electronics, and this is where urban mining opportunities stem from.
Old and disused electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers can be collected together, and the gold extracted from within. This process is called urban mining, where scrap precious metals are repurposed from broken consumer electronics. The valuable materials are collected together and can be sold off by the gram. Urban mining is a fast-growing industry, and you can get involved by using your old computer.
In this article, we’re going to explain exactly where and why gold is used in computer components. We’ll spell out exactly how valuable the gold in your old laptop is, and even the methods you can use to go about extracting it. Read on to discover more about the fast-growing e-waste industry, and was you can do to help recycle some of the rarest and most precious materials on the planet.
Why is Gold Used in Computers?
Gold, as an element, has many useful properties. There are many reasons this precious metal is so valuable, as gold is used in many surprising ways. The use of gold in computers comes down to a handful of physical and chemical properties; unlike with jewelry, there is no aesthetic value here. While some prize gold for it’s shine and beauty, gold is used in computers because of its efficiency as a conductive material.
The atomic number of gold is 79, placing it in the group of noble metals. These metal elements are special because of their unreactivity. Gold and other noble metals are resistant to corrosion, very hard to dissolve using acid, and generally won’t react much when exposed to other chemicals. This makes gold a great choice for use in computers and other electronics, as fragile components can be easily destroyed with just a slight tarnish. As gold cannot corrode or react with moisture, the fragile electronic elements made using this material are durable.
Gold’s high atomic number is also the reason this metal is highly conductive, both to heat and electricity. This is another reason gold is used in computers, where information needs to pass at incredible speeds between different electrical components. Your personal computer handles massive amounts of information at lightning speeds. To be successful at this, it must be constructed from materials that can handle this degree of conductivity. Less conductive metals might burn out or otherwise break after only a little bit of use.
Another physical property of gold that makes it perfect for use in electronics is its malleability. Because gold is so soft, a small amount can be hammered into a huge sheet or wire. This means only tiny quantities of gold are needed to do an effective job in electronics. You may think that gold is too expensive of a material to use in everyday items, but you only need a small amount to get the job done.
Gold cannot oxidize or tarnish the way that silver does, so it’s a great choice for making electronic components that need to last. The gold parts in your personal computer will outlast any other component in the device. Gold has the highest corrosion resistance known to man, as only a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids can dissolve this substance. In important electronics where it’s vital that the components do not fail, gold is used to maintain a perfect condition.
While it is an excellent conductor, there are plenty of other metals more conductive than gold. Silver, for example, would be much more effective at carrying electronic currents and signals. Unfortunately, silver is nowhere near as durable as gold and only takes the slightest moisture to tarnish. Should a silver component in an electrical device be exposed to even a drop of rain, it could become completely useless. This is the reason gold is used instead, as it can withstand any test of time.
Where is the Gold in Computers?
There are several different locations where gold is most commonly found within a laptop or desktop computer. These components, where gold is most vitally needed, are the most valuable parts of your computer when it comes to scrap metal value. We’ve established that gold is used because it is highly conductive and durable, so it makes sense that this precious metal is used in the most important parts of your computer.
The edge connectors used to mount microprocessors and memory chips to your motherboard all contain gold. Additionally, all the plug-and-socket connections in your computer used to attach cables from the outside are made with gold. The gold in the intricate circuitry in your personal computer is layered onto other metals using electroplating. This means the quantity of gold is very small, as only the tiniest amount of this incredibly dense metal is needed. Gold plating computer components is the most efficient way to use this material.
Circuit boards, hard drives, and many other vital computer parts need gold to function correctly. Gold plated pins and gold fingers are two computer components where gold is easy to locate. However, this isn’t the only precious metal used in computers and smartphones. Small amounts of silver, titanium, palladium (an alloy of gold and silver), and many more valuable materials can be found inside old consumer electronics. Without the benefits of using gold in computer construction, our modern devices would be nowhere near as fast or reliable. The use of gold in technology is one of the most important reasons we have for mining this precious metal today.
How Much Gold is in a Desktop Computer (And What’s It Worth?)
In the average desktop computer, you can collect about 1/5th of a gram of gold. The current gold price but this value at around $10, which isn’t much for an entire computer. However, consider that the majority of gold in a desktop computer is contained within the motherboard. You don’t need to strip the entire machine, just to collect the circuitry and harvest gold from there. One ton of desktop computer circuit boards would produce around 5 troy ounces of gold.
How Much Gold is in a Laptop Computer (And What’s It Worth?)
Laptop computers, as they are slightly smaller and more lightweight than their desktop equivalent, contain fewer precious metals. It’s estimated that the average laptop contains about 1/10th of a gram of gold or the equal of $5-6 USD. Popular Macbook laptop computers made by Apple may have slightly more gold inside, as these are generally produced to a higher specification.
How to Extract Gold From Computers
The gold content in the average computer ranges between 1/10th to 1/5th of a gram, while cell phones contain about 25 milligrams of gold, worth one dollar. The amount of gold you can recover from a sole personal device isn’t worth the effort, but refiners and urban miners complete this process on a much larger scale. As we mentioned, one ton of computer motherboards can yield a whopping 5 troy ounces of gold, which is more than $9,000 worth of the precious metal.
There’s a word for the electronic scrap that collects as consumers buy newer versions of their personal devices; it’s called e-waste. E-waste is a growing issue in our modern world as the planet was not prepared to handle the millions of cell phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices that are discarded each year. However, urban miners see this ecological issue as a new opportunity- e-waste can be a lucrative industry.
Gold recovery from old computers is a difficult process, but it’s possible for anyone to do it. The time-consuming technique isn’t worth it for the small amount of gold you can gain from a single device. On the other hand, if you have a good source of outdated electronics, and know how to extract gold from computers, you may have a literal gold mine on your hands. Professional recyclers have been refining gold from old desktops and cell phones for years, but it’s not too late for you to start.
The process of recycling computers can get a little complicated, and you’ll need several pieces of specialist equipment as well as specific chemicals. The first step is to collect together as many high-end personal electronic devices, as only a little gold can be found in just one. You want to ensure that at least a few grams of gold are contained in your scrap components, to ensure the process is worth your time.
Almost all of the valuable metals in computers are contained within the circuit boards, these are the only components you need to save from scrapping. When you’ve separated out all the parts with gold value, you can begin the process of extracting gold. You will also need the physical and chemical supplies necessary to remove valuable materials from the computer parts. The tools you need include:
- A rubber apron and gloves
- Goggles or other eye protection
- A funnel filter (a drip coffee filter works fine)
- Two large glass containers
- A glass stirring stick
- A weighing scale accurate to 1/10th of a gram
- Clay bowls with a melting point above 500 degrees
- A measuring cup
While these are the basic supplies you need to locate to complete the gold extraction process, you might also need to make a few special purchases. There are several important chemicals you can buy from the pharmacy or hardware store that are vital to extracting the gold value from computers. Hydrogen Peroxide (3%), Methyl Hydrate, Muriatic Acid (31%), and Borax are all instrumental in successfully collecting gold.
Your scrap gold should be collected together in a single container, so now you need to sort it into different categories. First, use a magnet to remove any gold-plated steel, as this needs a different extraction process. Any dirty circuit boards need to be cleaned before you begin, so no contaminants can interfere with the process. Then, these circuit boards, along with any gold fingers you have, need to be stripped of their plastic components.
Wearing all of the appropriate safety gear, ensure you’re working in a well-ventilated space. Put the gold fingers and circuits into one of your large containers. Next, mix a solution of 2 parts muriatic acid and 1 part hydrogen peroxide in your measuring cup. Pour this mixture into the container with your gold pieces, until it covers up every component. Now you need to leave the gold parts to sit in the solution for a week, mixing it around every day.
After a week of waiting and stirring, you should have collected a surprising amount of gold flakes and dust at the bottom of your container. The acidic solution will dissolve all plastic and other components, leaving a darkened liquid and a pile of gold flakes behind. To strain the gold from the acid mix, pour it into your second container through the coffee filter. You can save the acid for later use.
Pour the contents of your funnel filter into a large plastic tray, and add water to clean the parts. You need to remove the fully cleaned pieces of gold, while any circuit boards or components with plastics still attached need to be cleaned again. Once your solid gold is separated out, flush it with methyl hydrate to ensure the flakes are clean. As 99% methyl alcohol, this chemical will clean your gold much more effectively than water and then evaporate completely. This is helpful during the weighing stage as wet gold can give an inaccurate reading.
The next step of this intensive gold recovery process is to form your gold dust and flakes into a solid grain or nugget. To do this, you can use the popular household chemical cleaner Borax. Borax, or sodium borate, reduced the melting temperature of all minerals including gold. Gold usually has a melting temperature of over a thousand degrees Celsius, something not achievable by the urban miner at home. By adding Borax to your gold flakes, you can safely melt them together.
Before you begin, weigh your gold particulates on your accurate scale, making a note of the figure. This will tell you how much mass is lost through melting and cupellation, as other substances burn off leaving behind only pure gold. To melt your gold flakes, first heat the clay bowl to a high temperature. Add Borax to the bowl, and wait for it to melt. Then, add in your gold flakes and yet more Borax, before reapplying heat to the bowl. You should be able to tell when the process is finished; the gold should form one hot mass. After the gold cools down, you can weigh it to discover how much mass was lost.
Recycling Computers for Gold
To get one troy entire ounce of gold using this technique, the equivalent of the Gold American Eagle, you would need one-fifth of a ton, or more than 180 kilograms of computer motherboards. This might make it seem like scrapping computers for their precious metals isn’t worth it, but in comparison to traditional gold mining, it’s much more effective. The same weight in gold ore would yield anywhere between 40 and 800 times less gold than computer circuitry.
Most of the valuable metals on our planet no longer lie beneath the crust; they’re out on the surface where we can already see them. As the world’s finite supply of precious metals dwindles further, urban mining techniques are becoming ever more important. These methods of refining and extracting gold from scrap are the only sustainable source of this precious metal we have. Efforts to improve the processing of e-waste are vital if we wish to continue enjoying all the benefits of modern life.