Electronics are a potpourri of expensive and rare items, but most of them end up accumulating in an e-waste landfill instead of being recycled. That’s not because we lack the technology to recycle it, but rather due to factors like cost management and process efficiency. SIM cards are among the phone parts that end up going to waste without much acceptance in terms of recycling efforts.
Now the folks at Imperial College London have come up with a method for recycling SIM cards that can potentially help make medicines cheaper. In a world where healthcare accessibility is in crisis mode, especially in the United States, where people pay the highest price globally at $1,300 per year worth of drugs, this encouraging SIM recycling method targeting the pharmaceutical industry could be a boon.
At the heart of this promising solution is gold, a gold compound, to put it precisely. SIM cards use gold coating because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. In addition, it resists corrosive damage over time much better than other precious metals, such as silver. The amount used, however, is quite small, and you would have to collect thousands of SIM cards to mine a few grams of gold.
That’s not a very sound process economically, both on an individual level and on an industrial scale. The biggest problem is the extraction methods, which are complex and expensive. In response, Professors Angela Serpe and Paola Deplano from the University of Cagliari in Italy developed an easy method to recover gold and other precious metals from electronics.
So how do you play in the drug manufacturing business? Well, gold is also an excellent catalyst, which means that it can speed up the process of chemical reactions. The aforementioned process relies on grinding, plastic extraction, and chemical treatment of e-waste to recover gold in a composite form, which isn’t really as precious as the shiny metal itself.
In fact, the gold compound produced at the end of the process will not readily produce pure gold for reuse in electronic circuit boards. this is where some minds at Imperial College London found a solution. Led by Professors James Wilton-Ely and Chris Braddock, they found a way to use this recycled gold compound as a catalyst for pharmaceutical applications.
The team applied the gold compound as a catalyst in multiple chemical reactions to make drugs such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. To his surprise, the gold “waste: in his hand” “performed as well, or better, than currently used catalysts.”
Another important discovery was that this gold compound derived from scrap SIM cards could also be reused, further increasing its profitability appeal. A research worknow available from ACS Publications, says: “This is the first direct application in homogeneous catalysis of gold recovery products from e-waste.”
This low-impact recovery process for catalytic gold from discarded SIM cards and other waste electrical and electronic equipment is not only cheaper, but also much more environmentally sustainable than commercial mining.
The paper adds that “even small-scale, non-optimized production” of the gold catalyst, which is obtained as a black crystalline solid, is significantly cheaper than traditional options currently used in the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, it is also much less damaging to the environment than gold mining operations.
Even after gold compounds are used as catalysts during a batch of drug synthesis, and recovered through a simple chemical process, they are free of organic impurities. Simply put, they can be used to catalyze drug production processes up to eight times without any loss in effectiveness.
The team concludes that conventional gold catalysts can be substituted with “cheaper, more sustainable alternatives recovered from millions of metric tons of e-waste currently sent to landfills each year.” With mass adoption, the benefits derived from this advance could very well be passed on to the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs more affordable.
At a time when even the White House had to step in with a executive order In order to lower the price of prescription drugs, the world could definitely use innovations like this. Other remarkable project aimed at recycling SIM cards came from the Kids Non-Profit Organization (KNPO), which used recycled SIM cards to make safety reflectors. The objective was to use them to prevent traffic accidents.