Extracting Gold from Ceramic IC Chips

If you’ve ever disassembled a computer, you know what printed circuit boards look like. They’re usually green wafers that are embossed with patterns of metallic paths that connect various components that sit on their surfaces. At their edges, you’ve noticed rows of gold-plated “fingers” that serve as points of attachment. So with printed circuit boards, it’s pretty easy to see where the gold resides.

Photo of scrap electronic ceramics CPU chips sent to Specialty Metals to be refined and recycled for their gold, platinum, silver and palladium.

It’s not quite as easy to spot the value in the ceramic integrated circuit (IC) chips that are found in computers, especially in the form of large central processing units. You know them, because they are often inscribed with the name of a manufacturer like Intel or Fujitsu. But what are they exactly? Because the gold and circuitry are sealed up inside, all you can see are the pins or contact points on the outside that allow the chip to be snapped into a contact block on a larger printed circuit board.

Why Are Ceramics Used?

Integrated circuitry is encased in ceramic for several reasons. First, ceramic can protect delicate circuitry from damage caused by impacts, dust and oxidation, and contamination caused by oil deposited by fingerprints. Also, ceramic makes an ideal protective sheath for microchips and micro circuit boards because it doesn’t conduct electricity.

If Ceramic IC Chips Are So Strong, How Can they Be Recycled?

Gold is usually extracted from ceramic IC chips in two steps:

  1. The ceramic casing is mechanically removed from the outside of the chip. This often involves manual work to physically split the ceramic “shell” of the chip and expose the microchip within.
  2. The inner chip is immersed in chemical baths to separate the gold from surrounding plastics and other materials.

How Much Gold Is Contained in a Ceramic IC Chip?

We wish we could give you a definite answer to that question. Older IC chips generally contain a bit more gold than newer ones. But again, that is a generalization. If you have a quantity of ceramic IC chips that you are interested in recycling, give us a call at 800-426-2344. We’ll be happy to tell you whether it is worth refining your chips and set up a plan that can help you turn them into dollars.

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