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Extracting gold from scrap, a report on A3

Cristobal-La-vanguardia

Cristóbal Hernández comes from a family of several generations of scrap dealers, and after thirty years in the business, in 2006 he set up a new company on his own, A3 Aprofitament Assessorament Ambiental. Without moving from the sector, it began focused on recovering waste from workshops and the automotive sectors, and has evolved “towards the recycling of materials that other traditional recovery companies are not dedicated to”.

“We develop our own technologies to recover materials that used to go directly to the trash”, he explains. For example, “the precious metals that we remove from the catalysts – rhodium, platinum and palladium – we are sending to Japan to a car manufacturer to re-make catalysts,” explains Hernández. “We have developed a unique computer program to value the catalysts: it depends on the car, the license plate… it tells us the grams of rhodium or platinum, and calculates the price based on the price on the metal market.”

Hernández started A3 with a lead battery collection service, mainly in car workshops. Later, it began to collect liquids and other waste from the workshops, and gradually expanded its fleet to the current 6 trucks. “We cover all of Spain.” A3 is in charge of the maintenance service of the repeater batteries of all telephone operators. They also treat computer batteries, generators, cars, watches, mobiles. “In Catalonia there is no one else that treats them all,” he assures, despite the fact that hundreds of managers operate.

A3, which has moved to a 9,000 m2 plant in Granollers, employs 21 people, and in 2013 had a turnover of close to 8 million, says Hernández. The company allocates “more than half of the profits to R&D”. With this, they extract gold and silver, platinum and copper from computers, or from car airbags. “Is called urban mines: to get a kilo of gold in Africa you have to move 70,000 tons of earth. To get a kilo of computer gold, you need 5 tons of electronic boards. From 2 tons of x-rays (which perhaps occupy 2 m3), you can obtain 15 kilos of silver”. In Germany or Japan they recover it, but before here most of this material was lost. “We have a precious metals refinery and we extract bullion. In Spain there is only one other, in Madrid, but we get everything from waste”.

Other examples of unusual materials that A3 recovers are Teflon, televisions (“we disassemble them and value all the components”) or fire extinguishers: “when they expire, they are thrown away, and it is dangerous because they explode. We open them one by one, we degas them and recover the dust inside”.

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