How to Recover Gold from Electronics and Is It Worth the Risk?

Conventional PCI Board
Conventional PCI Board | Source

First thing people do when they find out that there are precious metals in electronics, is think that they will become filthy rich in no time. Big mistake. While there are traces of copper, silver, gold and even platinum in circuit boards, the amount per item is too small to make the processing worthwhile. However, don't get discouraged so easily. Read this article to familiarize yourself with two of the most popular methods for gold recovery and then decide if it's something you feel comfortable doing.

Right off the bat, I should tell you that all processes require the use of chemicals that are very dangerous when mixed. Not only do you risk burning your skin, but you'll also be exposed to really toxic gases causing cancer and even death!

If you still insist on recovering gold from electronics by yourself, make sure you have all the gear necessary for processing (goggles, gloves, etc.). Do not try to save money by eliminating any of the items needed; they are all cheap anyway!

Safety First

This is a list of the safety equipment that you need for any gold recovery method. The use of the following items is mandatory, not optional!

  • Goggles
  • Rubber gloves
  • Apron (preferably rubber)
  • Heavy duty respirator mask


Still interested, are you? Good. Then roll up your sleeves and let's get started!

Like I said, I'll outline two of the most popular methods for gold extraction from circuit boards - (1) using muriatic acid mixed with hydrogen peroxide, and (2) through a process called reverse electroplating. I have also included video clips and links to detailed tutorials on how it's done.

Muriatic Acid and Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

The idea behind this process is that you make a chemical compound by mixing muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide together in a glass container. You soak in a batch of circuit boards in the bath and let them marinate for a week (or 10 days). The metal is slowly dissolved and should separate from the plastic. As it does, you might observe toxic fumes coming out of the container. Do not inhale! The gases smell awful and are extremely hazard. That is why this process should only take place outdoors!

After a week (or 10 days) has passed, there should be no fumes, which means that the gold has dissolved. It is now time to collect the gold flakes and rinse them with water. Carefully remove the circuit boards from the vessel and pour the liquid into an empty glass jar using a coffee filter to contain just the flakes. Now we've separated the solution from any foreign object residue. The jar should be only full of the chemical compound without any traces of metal in it. Take another empty jar and put the coffee filter on top. Rinse the gold thoroughly with water. You are done!

Before you get excited, though, note that the gold you've recovered is not 24k. You will have to make a different sort of bath to remove any traces of other metals. After you do that, you can proceed to the final step where you melt the gold grains into a small bullion.

TUTORIAL: How to recover gold from electronics using muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide

Materials

Here is what you'll need for this type of gold recovery in addition to the safety equipment listed earlier:

  • Muriatic acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Coffee filter
  • Glass containers
  • Plastic stick for stirring

Reverse Electroplating

Reverse electroplating is when you mix sodium cyanide, sodium hydroxide and sodium meta nitro benzene sulphonate in a vessel, and then charge it up with electricity. The solution is called an electrolyte and when you apply current through the liquid, it causes a reaction in the electronic scrap that strips metals from the plastic body. Unlike the first method, this process only takes a few hours, but it is just as dangerous.

In a nutshell, you mix and stir the chemicals in a glass container. Then you need some power source to form the electrical current. An ordinary car battery should suffice. You should also get two pieces of stripped wire and attach one of their ends to each of the battery's terminals (positive and negative).

For the process to work, you'll need to make an anode and a cathode. First, you take the wire that is connected to the positive terminal and attach it to any of the electronic scrap, using metal clips. You've just made an anode. Then you attach the other wire - which you previously connected to the negative terminal - to a small piece of stainless steel. That would be your anode. Once both ends are clipped to each of the two pieces of wire (cathode and anode), you can carefully put the material in the bath, followed by the stainless steel item. Electrical current will be formed and in a couple of hours, the gold coating should separate from the circuit board. Filter and rinse the gold flakes the same way you'd do if you had used the first method.

TUTORIAL: How to recover gold from electronics using reverse electroplating

Materials

Here is what you'll need for this type of gold recovery in addition to the safety equipment listed earlier:

  • Battery (9 or 12 volt)
  • Two pieces of stripped wire
  • Metal clips
  • Glass container
  • Coffee filter
  • Plastic wand for stirring
  • Stainless steel plate or rod
  • Sodium cyanide
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium meta nitro benzene sulphonate

Verdict

As you can see, gold recovery is quite simple. It's a matter of following a few instructions. But it is also a very dangerous hobby. You can get hurt really bad and even die of long toxic fumes exposure. However, if you are an extremely careful individual and you feel that you can do this type of work safely, then it's a matter of having enough material to justify the cost of the process.

Luckily for gold mining enthusiasts, all products are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. But one computer alone doesn't contain a lot of gold. The quantity of precious metals depends on the device's manufacturer and date of production (older computers have more gold than modern ones). One stationary computer usually holds just a few micrograms of gold!

Overall, it's only worth it when you have no less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of quality circuit board parts, like gold fingers and connector pins.

This goes without saying, but be extremely careful with the chemicals!

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