Days of e-waste are numbered, says French startup Extracthive

June 07, 2016 // By Julien Happich
A spin-off from CEA Marcoule labs (the French Atomic Energy Council), Extracthive aims to leverage the CEA's know-how in hydrometallurgical processes to design and industrialize new metal extracting and recycling processes, and in doing so, ease metal sourcing constraints.

Just over a year old, the startup offers consultancy services, matching the right treatment processes (and identifying potential post-treatment buyers in some cases) for a company's industrial waste. It prides itself in its capacity to scale up processes from lab-scale to pilot lines at its own site, but also in identifying the key players that could interact in a circular economy.

Extracthive is hosted within the Institut de Chimie Séparative de Marcoule and has a 100m2 testing hall within the fences of the CEA centre of Marcoule. From mid-2017 onwards, it will also have access to the testing platform of the European Hydrometallurgical Institute, a 2000m2 facility with two separate piloting halls as well as dedicated analytic labs.

At the Smart Manufacturing Summit which took place in Paris – Orly last May, EETimes Europe met the startup with some questions on e-waste.

Extracthive's Process Engineer Quentin Ricoux emphasized the importance of the company's piloting capacity. "We read a lot of research papers about new metal extraction processes, but often the researchers stop at the lab-level, which only offers an idealistic view of the process. In many cases, scaling up may just not make economic sense, or collateral effluents once negligible in the lab may crop up at the industrial scale and pose another waste issue".

"In some cases, we'll only have to make a cost simulation of the industrialization process to discard some solutions and orient the company towards other types of treatments, maybe finding alternative ways to value its effluents that are more cost-effective than trying to extract what they thought was the most valuable element in the first place", Ricoux said.

"Often, it's a matter of finding the right waste pre-treatment to turn waste as a raw material that best matches the needs of another buyer" added Christophe Dondeyne, Extracthive's Executive Director. "In the case of e-waste, it may just be finding the optimum process to concentrate it to the right specifications for another player in the recycling chain" Dondeyne said.

"We have formed a joint venture with a Swiss company who used to concentrate e-waste for another company down the recycling chain. We've figured out a new hydrometallurgical process for them so they can extract some rare metals that are currently not recycled by their customers. Our pilot-scale project already generated a return on investment, so they are willing to industrialize the process. In the end, they'll keep selling the concentrate but will make additional profits by selling the extracted rare metal".