Before exploring the issue of scrap tantalum capacitors, it is helpful to know where functioning tantalum capacitors are found and what they do. A tantalum capacitor is a component typically found on circuit boards in computers and other consumer electronics. The most visible example of a capacitor, though not necessarily a tantalum capacitor, is the capacitor used to save a charge for a quick burst of energy for a camera flash.
Operation Specs for a Working Tantalum Capacitor
Capacitors in general are used to store an electric charge. Tantalum is a superior material for capacitor construction due to the fact that tantalum capacitors tend to outlive their aluminium counterparts and have been in use since the 1950s. Some tantalum capacitors use a liquid electrolyte, which means the user should never break one open for safety reasons; one of the common electrolytes contained within these capacitors is sulphuric acid.
When a Tantalum Capacitor Becomes Scrap
A tantalum capacitor becomes scrap in a few situations. The least common is when the capacitor itself degrades and is manually replaced by a technician. As of 2010, the abundance of low-cost electronic devices means that a consumer will generally replace a broken device rather than repair it. The most common situation that causes the capacitor to get scrapped is when some other component in the device breaks and the entire unit, capacitors and all, is recycled. To qualified recovery facilities, electronic scrap circuit boards are a treasure trove of recoverable materials like copper and gold, as well as other chemicals. The capacitors are cut from the circuit board, sorted either by hand or via automation, and mechanically broken down further.
Tantalum Capacitor Scrap Specs
Tantalum scrap capacitors can themselves contain a bevy of recoverable materials in addition to the tantalum foil used in their construction. The capacitor shells are made of a combination of plastics and sometimes shielded metals, and the electrolyte can be a wide range of solid or liquid materials. Between each tantalum foil layer, paper or plastic is also present as a barrier. As of late 2010, tantalum scrap sells at a low end of £32 per pound and a high end of £55, depending on market flux and the specific buyer.