Project objectives

The main objective of the project is to recover valuable metals (mainly Cu, Ag and Au) from the non-metallic fraction of the Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) of different Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) by the application of an innovative more efficient 2-step bioleaching technology, combining aerobic and anaerobic treatment.

Increasing recovery degree of PCB

of WEEE for some elements (non-metallic fractions containing metals), contributing also to reduce European dependence on some high-valued metals with very low EU supply (mainly Au -gold-, but also Ag -silver- and Cu -copper-), and some Critical Raw Materials (mainly Pt -platinum).

Reducing the volume of unused PCB

of WEEE (non-metallic fractions containing organic compounds) by the application of anaerobic processes that lead to methane, the cleanest burningfossil fuel and contributing also to a more energy efficient recycling process. 

Promoting the use of biotechnology

in the recycling process of PCB of WEEE, thus contributing to make recycling sector a “bio-based industry”, through a climate-friendly and nature-based process with a reduced energy consumption compared not only with pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy but also with 1-step bioleaching technology.

Reducing the environmental impact of processing the PCB


of WEEE, that nowadays are incinerated in copper refineries and promoting the circular economy using available waste from other industries (food and animal feed) as additional nutrients booster for microorganisms.

Reducing processing costs, CO2 emission and waste generation

Reducing up to 50 % of processing costs, 8 % of CO2 emission and 1 % of waste generation with respect to hydrometallurgical process and 35-40 % with respect to the cost of 1-step bioleaching process.

Evaluating the technological and economic possibilities


in widening the usage of the innovative technology on other complex wastes with high content of plastic, in order to reduce processing costs (e.g. ELV or batteries).

Ensuring the efficient communication and dissemination

of LIFE BIOTAWEE project activities and results to the general public and relevant stakeholders at European level.

Main activities

A1: Feasibility study


Selection and characterization of specific wastes from REYDESA to be bioleached (origin, shape, suitable pretreatments, etc.) and study on possibilities to use available waste streams from nearby other industries for nutrients solution.

B1: Optimisation of bioleaching process

Different bioleaching tests will be carried out with WTW OxiTop systems and Erlenmeyer flasks with conditions and waste stream selected in task 1 in order to perform bench scale tests at 20 L.

B2: Pilot building and operation

Pilot building of the bioreactor will be carried out in REYDESA´s facilities in Spain and 10-20 semi-industrial batches will be developed.

B3: Post-processing


Leach-solvent extraction-electrowinning (SX/EW) and other extraction technologies will be applied to obtain pure raw materials, or metallic concentrates of known composition, from pregnant solutions and the cost effectiveness of the solution will be assessed in order to develop the replicability and transferability plan as well as the business plan.

C1: Monitoring of the environmental impact

C2: Monitoring of the socio-economic impact

D1: Dissemination and public awareness

E1: Project management


Background information

Collection, treatment and recycling of WEEE is essential to improve the environmental management, contribute to a circular economy and enhance resource efficiency. In this way, the recycling of WEEE offers substantial opportunities in terms of making secondary raw materials available on the market. Many materials used by the EU industry come from secondary or recycled sources. Producing goods using recycled materials is often much less energy intensive than manufacturing goods from virgin materials. Recycling can thus reduce production costs and carbon emissions. Even though it cannot meet the EU industry's entire demand for raw materials, recycling has a great potential to improve Europe's resource efficiency. Using lower quantities of materials in product design can also play a part in improving access to raw materials in Europe.

WEEE is a complex mixture of materials containing precious and special metals as well as potentially toxic substances like lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, that poses considerable environmental and health risks if treated inadequately. Moreover, the production of modern electronics requires the use of scarce and expensive resources, for example, less than 1 % of total gold worldwide is obtained from European natural resources around 10 % is used for EEE production.

According to the European Commission, WEEE is one the fastest growing waste streams in the EU (3-5 % per year), with some 9 million tonnes generated in 2005, and expected to grow to more than 12 million tonnes by 2020 ( The vast amount of WEEE is rapidly growing worldwide due to growth in the electronics sector and use of technology in general. According to Namias (2013), EU produce approximately 20 Kg of ewaste/person/year, while USA produce about 7 Kg of e-waste/person/year. This discrepancy may be attributed to the varying definitions of e-waste; in the USA electronic waste generally consists of information technology and telecommunications equipment, monitors and televisions, whereas in Europe it also includes large household appliances, cooling and freezing appliances, and medical devices.

PCB are the main support used for the interconnection of electronic components in WEEE, containing around 30-50 % of metals, some of which are of high value although in small proportions, and their recovery constitutes a potential source of secondary raw materials. The conductive tracks of the PCB are in their entirety Cu, whereas, in certain contacts, the use of Au and Ag coatings on Cu is usually used. Moreover, the European Commission has also created a list of Critical Raw Materials (CRM) that can be found at CRM combine a high economic importance to the EU with a high risk associated with their supply, being Pt the most important one that could be recovered from the PCB of WEEE. Until now, mechanical, pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical procedures have been used to recover the metals contained in the PCB. In order to obtain pure metals from these materials it is essential to combine different processes and it should be noted that in the treatment schemes currently applied in developed countries, the initial stage of treatment is usually a pyrometallurgical process focused on the recovery of the majority metal (usually Cu). Nevertheless, hydrometallurgical processes are usually not cost-effective and the organic parts of PCB of WEEE are not recovered.

An innovative 2-step technology, validated in ores as natural sources, is proposed to recycle the non-metallic fraction of PCB of WEEE in order to (i) produce methane during the anaerobic phase and (ii) recover metals as secondary raw materials (mainly Cu, Ag and Au) during the aerobic phase.



Expected results

The main result of the project will be the demonstration of a 2-step bioleaching technology in the recovery process of valuable metals from the non-metallic fractions of PCB of WEEE currently incinerated, that will also allow to produce methane through the application of an anaerobic process to the organic fractions.

As a result of LIFE BIOTAWEE project, the total amount of metal recovered will increase up to 75-100 %, and up to 400 % in the recovery of gold, the most valued metal. In this sense, it is expected a reduction in hazardous waste generation of 0,3 Tn at the end of the project, 0,9 Tn 3 years after the end and 6,5 Tn as final goal.

This new recovery process aims to be cost-effective and to reduce the final cost of recovery of metals up to 50% compared with hydrometallurgical processes and 35-40 % compared with 1-step bioleaching process.

REYDESA manages PCBs from WEEEs and now the 100 % of them are sent to recovery through pirometalurgy. LIFE BIOTAWEE proposes a technical solution for a technologically, economically and environmentally viable process to enable the increasing management of tons of PCBs.

Stakeholders and target groups

The main aim of the project is to recover valuable metals (mainly Cu, Ag and Au) from the non-metallic fraction of PCB of different WEEE by the application of a novel and innovative more efficient 2-step bioleaching technology combining aerobic and anaerobic treatment. This involves the technical, economic and environmental feasibility assessment of recycling the WEEE to produce a new more sustainable recovery process and obtain metallic raw material for other processes, at industrial scale.

To achieve this goal, it is important to count with relevant stakeholders to cover the different profiles affected by the project. In this sense, by one side, the project consortium is formed by a technology provider (BIOTATEC), who will implement and validate the innovative technology, and by an industrial company in the sector of the recovery (REYDESA), who is the expert in the treatment and recovery of different kind of residues, including the WEEE. In addition, REYDESA, has the support of INATEC (as an affiliated entity), where is located the R&D Department of OTUA Group.

LIFE BIOTAWEE importance is not only limited to the direct partners, and also aims to improve the environmental performance of all agents involved in the life cycle of WEEE, such as producers, distributors and consumers, and in particular those directly involved in the collection and treatment of WEEE. In this context, the project will try to involve at least one representative of the main sectors involved in the recovery of WEEE or potentially affected by the project's results:

  • Recycling Industries
  • Technology companies
  • Electronic devices manufacturers, importers and distributors
  • Raw material buyers
  • Policy makers & Administrations
  • Main target audience of the Project
  • Certification Organisations
  • Recycling & valorisators companies
  • Research Organizations
  • General public

This sector is one the main beneficiaries of the results of the project because they will be able to lead the commercial exploitation of the new by-product. Thus, they could give advice on logistic aspects, handling, processing or how the new product can be commercialized. Also, the conditions to ensure the economic feasibility of the process can be discussed (volume of product, range of performance, …). The members of this group shall ensure that the solutions adopted in this project are feasible and can be carried out in other treatment centres or indicate the main constrains to reach the best solutions.

As leader of the project, REYDESA, included in the OTUA Group, represents this sector. OTUA has more than 40 years of experience, and is one of the leading companies in the recycling of metals in Europe. It is an industrial group formed by 10 companies dedicated to Recycling, Distribution and Research with industrial facilities exceeding 200,000 m2.

Complementing the direct participation of OTUA Group, LIFE BIOTAWEE has obtained a letter of support of the “European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) AISBL”. EuRIC represents more than 5,500 companies, including large companies and a vast number of SMEs, that are primarily involved in the collection, processing, recycling and trade of ferrous, non-ferrous scrap as well as other materials.

In addition, the project has obtained a letter of support from the main Associations of the waste recycling sector in each country: “Federación Española de la Recuperación y el Reciclaje_FER” (Spanish Federation of Recovery and Recycling), the main association in Spain, and EJKL “Estonian Waste Management Association”, this one in Estonia.

These members will expose the actual problem to be solved and how the producers can implement or not the solutions proposed inside the project, or improve them by adapting to their specifically needs. They could also give their opinion in case of some pre-treatment are needed in the Recycling Industries facilities. They are the technological providers of the solutions. In LIFE BIOTAWEE project this stakeholders group is represented by the direct presence in the consortium of BIOTATEC. It is interesting to indicate that these companies are mainly SME (with a high number of Start-ups or Spin-off) and usually very R&D intensive companies, with close relations with research institutions. The project has collected also a Support Letter from the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU), showing its interest in how the technology may solve new environmental problems.

The electronic devices manufacturers are one of the industrial sectors more interested in the results of the LIFE BIOTAWEE project. Nowadays, in the marketing strategies of main trades, environmental aspects are getting more and more important, so if the electronic device producers can argue that their products would be recycled in a better way and they are going to be part of the Circular Economy by the recovery of more elements, they will have better arguments in their market strategy.

As the majority of electronical manufacturers are from non-EU Countries, the results of LIFE BIOTAWEE would also apply for the importers & distributors of this equipment, because they should be aware of new possibilities in the recovery of residues that could derivate in legislation changes.

In this group, REYDESA has contacted with ECOLEC Foundation, a non-profit organisation formed by the industrial associations representing the manufacturers and importers of large and small appliances. Its main objective is to contribute to the sustainability and improvement of the natural resources through the collection, treatment, valorisation and elimination of the WEEE residues, so they are directly interested in the results of this project and will help in the dissemination of them inside the sector. Besides, the project has obtained a letter of support from “BSH ELECTRODOMESTICOS ESPAÑA”. BSH is one of the world's leading companies in the sector and the largest home appliance manufacturer in Europe. BSH has interest in the project because one of the lines inside its sustainability strategy is related to recycling management and avoiding critical substances. Furthermore, BSH promotes environmentally-compatible recycling technology through standardization. The aim is to exclude hazardous substances and recover valuable materials from old appliances.

Europe has a trade deficit in the import-export balance of some raw materials as are metals. With the recovery of some of them proposed in the project, European companies that use these raw materials in their processes could afford them in a more sustainable way. In this sense, raw materials obtained by the new technology may help the competitivity of the industrial sector.

Nowadays, OTUA Group (where REYDESA is included) has a large number of clients, smelters and refineries of non-ferrous metals, all over Europe (i.e. Germany, Poland, Belgium, Austria or Spain) that would be very interested in the possibility to buy a more refined product.

As a final but not less important stakeholder, the results of LIFE BIOTAWEE are of great importance for the different policy makers at regional, national or European level. The demonstration of the viability of new technologies that could be applied in the recovery of one of the residues signalled as critical, may change the recommendations or requirements in each level. In this sense, the project has received a Support Letter from the Economic Affairs and Communication of the Estonian Government.

The target groups that have been identified are summarized below. However, and due to the importance of the dissemination and networking activities in this project, this will be continually monitored and updated during the project. Public authorities and administrations: As commented, the successful demonstration of this project will have an impact on the actual legislation and policy recommendations to the authorities in the treatment of WEEE. It is important to remark that the Estonian Government has showed its interest in the project results through a letter of support.

Nowadays there is an increasing number of labels or certifications directed to verify that products or industries fill in different aspects related to production quality systems, environmental aspects, eco-design or others. But these certifications must be updated regularly including the new best available techniques (BREF) related to each sector. In this sense, these organisations are interested in the results of the project and knowing how effective is their application and replicability in other sectors.

Related to this point, it is important to indicate that REYDESA has obtained the WEEELABEX certification for the following WEEE treatment streams: Mixed equipment (WEEE categories 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7 and 9 but excluding display equipment).

They will benefit from the methodology that is demonstrated in this project to use it in future actions. It will be easy to follow and repeat. Important efforts will be done in the project to achieve the maximum coverage of this group.

Also, other companies that use metal in their process. It is intended to inform these companies because the WEEE metals recovered will be used as cheaper raw materials than the usual ones, as it will be demonstrated in the project.

It is important to reach research organizations because the solution obtained in this project, with a two-stage bioleaching process for metal recovery, serve as an example to investigate other metals that can be reused from different sources. In this sense, as commented, LIFE BIOTAWEE has the support of the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

It is very important that this project reach the general public, to understand the need for reuse the WEEE from an environmental point of views. Moreover, the use of these by-products in the production of other processes also improves the European industrial sustainability.

Project participants

REYDESA RECYCLING is a leader company in the recovery of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. They offer a versatile service to manage a wide range of metallic waste, being specialized in the recovery of copper. Their infrastructure allows them to treat all types of waste of diverse composition and origin. In 50,000 m2 of facilities they have technologically advanced productive means that allow to manage a wide range of complex waste effectively. At the same time, they treat and decontaminate WEEE and VFU. With the aim of offering great versatility when it comes to recycling complex solid waste, they have multiple and complementary treatment facilities. In the project, REYDESA, has the support of INATEC (as an affiliated entity). In INATEC is located the R&D Department of OTUA Group in which both REYDESA and INATEC are included. OTUA Group has more than 40 years of experience and is one of the leading companies in the recycling of metals in Europe. It is an industrial group formed by 10 companies dedicated to Recycling, Distribution and Research with industrial facilities exceeding 200,000 m2.

BIOTATEC was created in 2007 as a spin-off from Tallinn University of Technology. For 9 years, the company performed metagenomic testing of environmental samples as ISO17025 accredited testing lab and fulfilled various R&D projects for industries and governmental institutions. Since 2010 the company has investigated the possibilities to improve the technology of bioleaching for polymetallic ores that contain organo-metallic complexes. In 2015 given R&D became the main activity of the SME. Company has submitted 2 patent applications related to innovative bioleaching technology with higher efficiency for ores considered to be “low-grade” for conventional metallurgy and even conventional bioleaching.