Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The digital junkyard: 'Urban mining'

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 9:36 AM

click to enlarge blueoak.png
We'd mentioned earlier that the state would participate (including $14 million in teacher retirement venture capital) in the announcement today of a new venture in Osceola, BlueOak Resources, that will recycle materials from junked electronics such as computers.

I didn't know until today this $35 million venture would be the first U.S. "urban mining refinery." The plant will retrieve gold, silver, copper and palladium from e-waste. A Sol Allman for the 21st century, you might say.

Executive chairman of this company is John Correnti, a steelmaker who started the Nucor steel mill in Mississippi County and recently won tens of millions in state backing to start a competitor steel mill there. The AEDC release notes the parallels:

BlueOak’s refining business model is inspired by the quintessential case study of the mini-mill disruption of the steel industry, which ushered in a new era of steel production. The distributed nature of mini-mills allowed lowest cost production of steel from recycled steel scrap. BlueOak intends to capitalize on the high demand for “technology metals” like gold, silver, copper and palladium by creating distributed urban refineries in the U.S. and throughout the world that recover high-value metals from e-waste. Production at the Arkansas facility will begin by the end of 2015, initially processing 15 million lbs. of electronic scrap per year, with plans for rapid expansion, bringing 50 high-paying technical jobs to the area.

The project is relying on New Markets Tax Credit financing.

The state touted the environmental benefits, a reason that former Vice President Al Gore will join the announcement today. (He's also an investor.)

Dumping e-waste in landfills and worse, exporting it to countries where e-waste is handpicked over open fires, represents not only an environmental disaster, but also the loss of millions of tons of valuable resources. Circuit boards, cell phones and other electronics are made with sizable amounts of gold, silver, copper and palladium – high-value metals that are currently lost to landfills. And, while Europe has established a thriving supply chain around this challenge, BlueOak is the U.S.’s only urban refinery dedicated to recovering precious metals from e-waste.

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