Is Recovering Gold from Electronics Worth it?
Quick answer: Yes, it can be if you know what you’re doing!By Jane Pardo | Updated May 9, 2023
Recovering gold from electronics is not easy. You could end up wasting time and effort if you don’t take the time to understand everything about extracting gold.
That’s why we created this must-read guide to help you learn all about gold recovery.
Keep on reading to find out whether collecting gold from old electronics is profitable and how it works.
Table of contents
Should you extract gold from electronics?
Recovering gold from junk electronics, also called urban mining, may be profitable if you can amass large volumes of electronic waste (e-waste), particularly computer parts. It may not be worth the ordeal to extract gold from a small pile of junk hardware. It’s best to find good sources of free e-waste for maximum profits.
- You’ll likely make profits when retrieving gold from tons of e-waste.
- Gold extraction requires special chemicals for melting the gold into a bead.
- You need a spacious workshop for storing all your e-waste and segregated parts.
Types of electronics containing gold
A valuable use of gold is as a component of many electronics because of its superior electrical conductivity, malleability, and corrosion resistance.
Some electronics have more gold than others. Older electronics, in particular, have much more gold than modern gadgets and devices.
Computer parts have the highest amounts of gold.
Electronic devices and appliances with gold content include:
- Desktop computers
- Modern smartphones and old-generation phones
- Flatscreen and CRT TVs
- Old VHS camcorders and VCRs
- Modern DSLRs
- Film cameras
- Gaming consoles
- Arcades with joysticks and push buttons
- Machines with heating and cooling systems
- Sound systems
- Small handheld devices
- Any device with a printed circuit board, including refrigerators, smoke detectors, and coffee makers
- Electronic parts in cars, like airbag inflation chips
Fun fact: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics used gold, silver, and bronze collected from around 47,000 tonnes of e-waste and 5 million smartphones. In a nationwide effort, Japanese people donated old electronics for precious metals extraction.
How to identify precious metals in electronics
Finding gold in electronics is simple. Just open up old computers and devices, check the components, and see if there are shiny, yellow parts.
You’ll likely find traces of gold in printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, memory chips, modem cards, and graphics cards in computers.
You’ll find gold in the main board, SIM card, and components on the rear of the LCD screen of a smartphone.
- Motherboards and circuit boards: Check the edges for gold contacts and connectors. Surfaces of motherboards also typically have thin gold layers.
- Central processors: These are square microchip-like parts plugged into motherboards. Check for gold-plated pins on the edges.
- Memory chips: These small circuit boards have gold-plated pins and traces of gold on the surfaces.
- Peripherals like graphics boards, internal modems, and ethernet port boards: These computer parts have significant amounts of gold in the pins and surface layers.
How to extract gold from electronics
Retrieving gold from an electronic device is an arduous and time-consuming process.
You need basic chemistry knowledge, and you must be fully aware of the dangers involved with the chemicals necessary for gold recovery.
You must carefully separate the gold from the electronic components and use the right tools to melt it.
What you’ll need:
- Protective gear and clothing
- First aid kit
- Clear glass containers
- Hydrochloric acid
- Weak hydrogen peroxide (3% concentration)
- Plastic or glass rod
- Coffee filters
- Clay pot
1. Wear protective gear and prepare a basic first aid kit.
It’s imperative to wear protective gear to prevent harmful contact with hazardous chemicals.
Strong chemicals could cause skin burns, breathing problems, or irritation.
- Put on goggles, rubber gloves, a gas mask, safety boots, and flame-resistant overalls for complete protection.
- Prepare a first aid kit containing hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic that can help prevent infection from minor burns and wounds.
- You may want to inform someone nearby about what you’re doing so you can call for help if anything goes wrong.
2. Isolate the gold-housing component from the electronic device.
- Separate gold-plated steel components like circuit boards using a magnet.
3. Submerge the circuit board in a hydrogen peroxide solution.
Your solution should contain two parts lab-grade hydrochloric acid and one part 3% hydrogen peroxide.
- Put the circuit board in a clear glass container.
- Pour the solution over the circuit board until the component is fully immersed.
- Leave the circuit board in the liquid solution for one week.
- Stir the solution daily using a plastic or glass rod.
The acid should darken over time.
4. Gather the gold fragments.
Gold flakes should come off the circuit board after a week of immersion in the hydrogen peroxide and hydrochloric acid solution.
- Use a coffee filter to collect the gold fragments.
- Transfer the mixture to another container by pouring it through the coffee filter.
- Pour any remnants of the circuit board onto a plastic tray full of water. Save any bits with gold for re-dipping.
- Transfer the water to another container with the coffee filter to gather any gold dust.
- Wash the gold flakes with methanol, and rinse with water to remove residue.
5. Melt the gold.
- Make sure you’re wearing protective clothing and gear.
- Use a blowtorch to heat a clay bowl.
- Pour some borax onto the bowl. Borax is an alkaline mineral with a white, powdery appearance. It helps bring down gold’s melting point below 1,948 degrees Fahrenheit, making it easier to melt the gold flakes.
- Transfer the gold flakes into the pot when the borax softens.
- Turn off the heat once the gold flakes turn into gold beads.
- Take out the gold beads once they cool down.
6. Dispose of electronics responsibly.
After extracting gold, you can sell the e-waste in the used electronics market or send it to an e-waste recycling center for proper disposal.
- Electronic devices usually have heavy metals like mercury and lead that can negatively impact the environment when mismanaged.
If you aim to retrieve gold from e-waste on a larger scale, you may have to invest in better equipment.
This includes shredders, a Cathode Ray Tuber (CRT) crusher, solid metal tables, and eddy current separators. Over belt magnets and an optical sorter are also essential.
Additionally, you can buy or lease a truck to transport scrapped electronics.
Note: Once you’ve thoroughly studied the gold extraction process, be sure to do it in a spacious, well-ventilated, and well-lit space, preferably with a fume hood. Avoid dark, insulated places like basements.
Amount of gold you can recover from electronics
Different electronic devices have varying amounts of gold content.
- Computer CPUs contain as much as 0.2 to 0.5 grams, making them an excellent choice for gold extraction.
- Retrieving gold from 200 laptops can give you around 5 troy ounces of gold.
- A ton of PC circuit boards has approximately 5 troy ounces of gold.
- Smartphones typically have around 0.034 grams of gold.
- You can extract roughly one troy ounce of gold from 2000 smartphones.
How do large companies extract gold from e-waste?
Large companies extract gold from e-waste using a cost-effective mechanical process to shred computer parts into quarter-inch pieces and separate gold and other materials. They use electrical currents to remove precious metals in electronics.
Where can I find e-waste for gold recovery?
Find workshops that repair computers and other electronics. They will likely give you piles of junk electronics that are no longer fixable. Some will give away electronic waste for free, while others will sell it for a small price. You can hire someone to go around town looking for potential sources of e-waste to amass more junk electronics.
Where can I sell scrap gold?
You can sell scrap gold to goldsmiths, pawn shops, local jewelers, and precious metal dealers. Shop around to get the best gold prices.
While it won’t make you rich quickly, extracting gold from e-waste can be a good source of income when done right.
Master the essentials and remember to follow all safety precautions and proper disposal.