Searching for Hidden Treasure – With Innovative Textiles

The extraction of precious metals such as gold, platinum or palladium from deposits is associated with significant environmental pollution. Extracting the ores is not only energy-intensive but also contributes to soil acidification and eutrophication. The primary mining of palladium alone causes about 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 to be emitted per year. High time, then, to begin recycling such precious metals. Based on novel textile filters, researchers at the German Textile Research Centre North-West (Deutsche Textilforschungszentrum Nord-West e.V., DTNW)  have developed an efficient solution for extracting precious metals from industrial waste water.

Every mobile phone contains gold, every catalytic converter contains palladium. Many of these products are already recycled today and precious metals are recovered from them. But not all sources of “second-hand” valuable metals have been opened up yet and the potential is great. “In addition to electronic scrap, industrial waste water represents a significant source of valuable metals,” says Dr. Klaus Opwis, a scientist at the German Textile Research Centre North-West (DTNW) in Krefeld. “The difficulty is in selectively fishing out the precious metals from this waste water, in which they are only present in low concentrations.” This is precisely what the researchers from DTNW and from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Technology (IUTA) have now succeeded in doing.

Engine for progress:

  • development of new secondary raw materials sources
  • recycling protects the environment and climate
  • simple, cost-effective process
  • possible application also in the environmental sector

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Fishing for Palladium Using Textiles

The research team has developed a functionalised textile with polyelectrolytes, which can specifically filter out palladium 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. “Our process is not only easy to use, but also very cost-effective,” Opwis added. The practical applicability of the system has been proven convincingly in 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 – now it has a cash value.

Award-winning Innovation

The special innovation is based, on the one hand, on the simple manufacture and handling of the textile, as well as on the pronounced selectivity. This allows valuable metals such as gold, platinum or palladium to be specifically filtered out, while base metals such as calcium, magnesium or iron do not adhere to the textile. Especially in the electronics industry, reusable precious metals with a total value of over 10 billion euro remain unused. In addition to this, it may be possible to expand the field of application even further. “We are currently also researching the textile for use in the environmental sector, for example for the remediation of soil and groundwater containing chromate,” says Opwis. The researchers received the Rohstoffeffizienzpreis 2014 (Raw Materials Efficiency Award) from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) for their innovative procedure. Strategic partnerships and collaborations with other North Rhine-Westphalian companies from the textile finishing, plant engineering and metalwork industries are now to further commercialisation of the procedure.

Photo: Private

“Textiles can be much more than clothing! With the newly developed textile from this project, resources, the environment and money can be saved.”

Dr. Klaus Opwis, Group Leader at the DTNW

Partners and sponsors

  • Deutsches Textilforschungszentrum Nord-West gGmbH (DTNW)
  • Institut für Energie- und Umwelttechnik e.V. (IUTA)
  • Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BmWi)