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08.06.2015 10:23 Age: 4 yrs

The DTNW project has been qualified by KlimaExpo.NRW

There is gold in every mobile device, and every catalytic converter contains palladium. However, the extraction of such precious metals is associated with significant environmental pollution. Extracting the ores is not only energy-intensive, but also contributes to soil acidification and overfertilisation. Due to the mining of palladium alone, approximately 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year. Based on innovative textile filters, researchers at the German Textile Research Centre North-West (Deutsches Textilforschungszentrum Nord-West (DTNW)) at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), and at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Technology (IUTA) have developed an efficient solution for extracting and recycling such precious metals from industrial waste water. This outstanding research achievement in climate protection has now been honoured by the KlimaExpo.NRW initiative and selected as a qualified project.

At present, reusable precious metals with a total value of over 10 billion euro remain unused in the electronics industry. Many electronic products are already recycled today, but other sources of recyclable metals have not been tapped yet, and the potential is huge. “In addition to electronic waste, industrial waste water represents a significant source of precious metals,” says Dr. Klaus Opwis, a researcher at the German Textile Research Centre North-West (DTNW). “The difficulty lies in selectively filtering out precious metals from this waste water, in which they are only present in low concentrations.” This is precisely what the researchers have now achieved. KlimaExpo.NRW has therefore recently included the project “Textile Filter for Precious Metals” in its list of qualified projects.

KlimaExpo.NRW is an interdepartmental initiative of the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, which looks nationwide for projects that make a substantial contribution to climate protection and promote economic growth. “This project is a prime example of how you can bring hidden potential to light with new, innovative procedures, and therefore boost both climate protection and economic success,” emphasized Dr. Heinrich Dornbusch, Senior Managing Director of KlimaExpo.NRW. The research team has developed a functionalised textile with polyelectrolytes, which can filter out precious metals, such as palladium, in a very targeted manner, even from low-concentrate industrial waste water. This was not possible with previous methods, which either require higher concentrations of the target substance or do not work selectively, and thereby filter out also base metals such as calcium, magnesium, or iron. “Our procedure is not only easy to use; it is also very cost-effective,” adds Opwis. The practical applicability of the system has been proven convincingly in the case of waste water containing palladium from the printed circuit board industry. Previously, this kind of waste water had to be disposed of in a costly process.

The scope of application might even be extended. “We are currently researching the textile also for use in the environmental sector, for example for remediation of chromate-contaminated soil and groundwater,” says Opwis. The researchers received the 2014 Rohstoffeffizienzpreis (Raw Materials Efficiency Award) from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) for their innovative procedure. Strategic partnerships and research projects in cooperation with other North Rhine-Westphalian companies from the textile finishing, plant engineering and metal processing industries are intended to advance the commercialisation of the procedure.

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