Simple gold recovery from e-waste leachate by selective precipitation using a quaternary ammonium salt


Precipitation processes, if selective, present a simple and economical alternative for the recovery of critical metals from primary and secondary ores including electronic wastes. In this work, the recovery of gold by precipitation from both mono-elemental solutions and real CPU leach solution was demonstrated using hydrophilic quaternary ammonium salts. The gold precipitation yield is shown to be dependent on the apolar volume of the precipitant, with the addition of tetrabutylammonium-based salts resulting in the recovery of over 90 % of gold from synthetic solutions. The origin of gold precipitation selectivity relative to common metal ions upon addition of tetrabutylammonium nitrate ([N4444][NO3]) was assigned by X-ray crystal structure to the formation of size selective apolar cavity between neighbouring [N4444]+ cation and the [AuCl4]- anion. Following optimisation as a function of the gold to precipitant molar ratio, aqua regia concentration and time, approximately 70 % of gold could be recovered from waste CPU leach solution with a final purity of 91.4 % (mol/mol). [N4444][NO3] proved to be a versatile gold extractant and could be further applied as part of an acidic aqueous biphasic system at higher aqua regia concentrations were precipitation yields decreased, ensuring a selective gold recovery across a range of leachate conditions. The disclosed results improve the circularity of gold by providing a new avenue for its simple recycling.


André F.M. Nogueira, Ana R.F. Carreira, Sílvia J.R. Vargas, Helena Passos, Nicolas Schaeffer, João A.P. Coutinho

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