Five Tips to Recover more metal from your electro-plating

Electro-plating, used to enhance jewelry and industrial parts, also produces the unfortunate byproduct of hazardous wastewater, but there’s value in that byproduct that can be used to recoup the cost of its disposal.

Electro-plating works by passing an electric current through a solution of metal atoms, be it gold, silver, or chromium — termed an electrolyte — while the item to be plated is submerged within it, attracting a layer of the metal to the item. The leftover solution requires careful disposal. It also contains valuable metals that are not entirely expended in the process.

Wastewater containing heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, lead, chromium, nickel, copper, vanadium, platinum, silver, and titanium are generated in electroplating. Naturally, you don’t want to discard any of that valuable metal if you can help it.

There are a number of considerations to keep in mind to make sure you’re getting the most out of the electro-plating process and the waste product produced. Here are five tips to make sure your electro-plating project results in high-quality work that you can be assured will deliver the most value from start to finish:

Do your research


Before doing business with a refiner, make sure you learn how they handle solid, liquid, and gaseous waste at the facility. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), known as the Superfund Act, enacted by Congress on Dec. 11, 1980, provided broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances. Since the byproducts of electro-plating fall under this law, it’s in your best interest to make sure the refiner you’re working with is following federal guidelines for the safe disposal of electro-plating waste.

Get their documentation and carefully review it. Diligence here will save you on two fronts; a refiner who isn’t meticulous about disposal and waste management may well be making shortcuts in other areas that will cost you, and you’re also avoiding unnecessary trouble with federal and state regulators.

Ensure up to date equipment, methods

Make sure the refiner is using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment for measuring precious metals in the materials being reclaimed.

Ensure the refiner has access to fire assay, volumetric and gravimetric techniques, has advanced X-ray fluorescence equipment, atomic absorption, and Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) emission spectroscopy. These methods and equipment are approved by the American Bureau of Standards and the New York Metal Exchange/Commodities Exchange, and their use shows you refiner knows their business.

Check for low overhead

When it comes to getting the most value out of your electro-plating job, you want to make sure you’re paying a premium for expertise and experience, not inefficient planning on the refiner’s part.

If your refiner is relying on subcontractors instead of keeping the job in-house, there may be an alternative vendor capable of doing more themselves, limiting the costs that could be passed on to you.

Verify, then trust


When you’re first establishing a relationship with a refiner, take careful measurements of your wastewater to get the best idea of the value of the metals it holds. Electro-plating operations discharge different amounts of heavy metals according to the type of metal solution used in the process.

The EPA has conducted several studies on the content of industrial wastewater. You should be able to research their findings of operations like your own at Combined with some historical data on past returns, you can get an estimate of your likely expected return. You could also test the solution at a lab that can perform an atomic absorption test, which would give you an accurate figure to work with. Armed with good information, you can alert your refiner to your expectations, and work toward establishing trust with them over the long term.

Stay in the know

There are continuous experiments in the works determining how best to remove heavy metals from electro-plating wastewater, an environmental hazard. Scientists are approaching the problem from an environmental cleanup approach as well as an industrial/commercial viewpoint, so the potential for a commercial advance is promising. Potential methods for increasing the efficiency of cleaning heavy metals from wastewater include treating it with a rotating electromagnetic field with ferromagnetic particles. The next breakthrough could help your bottom line.


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