RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- Dr. John Whitney says he developed a process no one else can re-create. His Reno-based company named iTronics turns old circuit boards into usable gold, silver and other precious metals.
The discovery started with a problem that was killing fish in the Truckee River. Developing pictures produces photographic waste. The most toxic substance is liquid silver. It was dumped into the Truckee river before 1986.
Dr. Whitney's process pulls almost all the silver from the photographic liquid, neutralizing its harmful effect on fish and the environment.
"It's a completely new process. Never been done before," Dr. Whitney said.
Photographic waste comes from places like Gordon's Photo Service near Trader Joe's in Reno.
At one time the waste was stored indefinitely in the ground or diluted and released back into the environment, but now Gordon's Photography stores all the waste in large drums. iTronics transports the photographic waste to a facility in north Reno, where the silver is removed through a secret chemical process.
The silver is then added to a stew of ground up circuit boards and heated to at least 2,100 degrees for up to 20 hours. The silver acts as a sponge, pulling gold palladium, copper and other precious metals from the molten brew.
The molten mix is poured into a cone-shaped mold, where the precious metals sink to the bottom before cooling into a hard glass-like rock. It's turned upside-down and the smallest tip is knocked off with a hammer. What you get is called a bullion puck.
Four bullion pucks are remelted and refined once again to produce a shipping bar. It can be sold back into the market. The metals could very likely be turned into a watch or ring at a jewelry store.
This process actually brings in less than 10 percent of iTronic's earnings. The bulk of the company's economic power comes from what it does with the photographic waste after the toxic liquid silver is removed.
Another secret process Dr. Whitney developed transforms the remaining photographic waste into fertilizer.
"The results are beyond Miracle Grow. You'll get two to three times the volume to tomatoes and other vegetables," said Scott Terrell, who uses the fertilizer with the brand name of GOLD'n GRO. It's shipped by the truckload more than 200 miles southwest to this fertilizer dealer in Vernalis, California.
Tom Lopez is the branch manager for Crop Production Services. "It's great. It's taking a waste product and making a resource," he said.
GOLD'n GRO is mixed with other fertilizers to give almond, wine grape and walnut farmers in California the exact nutrients their fields need. "It gets good results; that's the bottom line. They want results," Lopez said.
Dr. Whitney says he will share the process, but is waiting to find the right partner. Until then, the process will remain in northern Nevada.
iTronics gets its circuit boards from New-To-You Computers. People and businesses donate their old computers to the company. If a computer can't be refurbished, it's dismantled by one of 40 disabled workers.
"I take things apart. I did the fans. Take the fans out and then I take the motherboards out," said New-To-You Computers employee Allen Wilson.
In the last 18 years, New-To-You Computers processed 1.5 million pounds of e-waste. iTronics started picking up bins of circuit boards about a year ago.
You can donate your old computer by dropping it off at 50 Greg Street #103 in Sparks.
You can also buy some of Dr. Whitney's fertilizer. Just go to Amazon.com and type in "GOLD'n GRO". You must spell the product's name just like it appears in the previous sentence or the search will not lead you to the product.