The intensive exploitation of resources on a global level has led to a progressive depletion of mineral reserves, which were proved to be insufficient to meet the high demand for high-technological devices. On the other hand, the continuous production of Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is causing serious environmental problems, due to the complex composition of WEEE, which makes the recycling and reuse particularly challenging. The average metal content of WEEE is estimated to be around 30% and varies depending on the manufacturing period and brand of production. It contains base metals and precious metals, such as gold and palladium. The remaining 70% of WEEEs is composed of plastics, resins, and glassy materials. The recovery of metals from WEEEs is characterized by two main processes well represented by the literature: Pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. Both of them require the pre-treatment of WEEEs, such as dismantling and magnetic separation of plastics. In this work, the selective adsorption of precious metals has been attempted, using copper, gold, and palladium aqueous solutions and mixtures of them. A screening on different adsorbent materials such as granular activated carbons and polymers, either as pellets or foams, has been performed. Among these, PolyEther Block Amide (PEBA) was elected as the most performing adsorbent in terms of gold selectivity over copper. Spent PEBA has been then characterized using scanning electron microscope, coupled with energy dispersive spectroscopy, demonstrating the predominant presence of gold in most analyzed sites, either in the pellet or foam form.
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