To battle the burgeoning problem of e-waste and generate useful materials from them, an Indian NRI residing in Australia has come out with a unique solution. This lady Prof. Veena Sahejwala has developed micro factories that turns electronic waste into valuable metal alloys. She is also credited with inventing "green steel" -- an environmentally friendly technology for recycling unusable rubber tyres to replace coal and coke in high quality steel making.
Though e-waste comprises of different valuable metals, it is challenging to extract them due to presence of toxins and complex mix of materials. However, the lady professor uses precisely controlled high-temperature reactions to produce copper and tin-based alloys from waste printed circuit boards (PCBs), while simultaneously destroying toxins. A programmed drone is able to identify PCBs from within crushed e-waste, and a simple robot is used to extract them, overcoming the risks of contamination, before the PCBs are fed into the furnace.
“A tonne of mobile phones (about 6,000 handsets), for example, contains about 130 g of copper, 3.5kg of silver, 340 grams of gold and 140 grams of palladium, worth tens of thousands of dollar
“We already understand the value of sourcing green energy from the sun, similarly we can source valuable green materials from our waste. ‘Mining’ our waste stockpiles makes sense for both the economy and the environment,” she said.
Large amount of e-waste is transported from developed countries to developing countries where poor communities are exposed to dangerous contaminants during hand processing to recover metals.
“The world urgently needs a safe, low cost recycling solution for e-waste. Our approach is to enable every local community to transform their e-waste into valuable metal alloys, instead of leaving old devices in drawers or sheds, or sending them to landfill,” said Professor Sahajwalla.
The new micro-factories are suitable for mobile use, they can be set up in containers and transported to waste sites, avoiding the huge costs and emissions of trucking or shipping e-waste over long distances.
The e-waste solution will be showcased at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), directed by Professor Sahajwalla.
A graduate of IIT Kanpur, Veena is a Scientia Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. She has gained popularity due to invention of "green steel" -- an environmentally friendly technology for recycling unusable rubber tyres to replace coal and coke in high quality steel making. The technology has already been put into use in the building construction industry in Australia (green steel enjoys an Australian IP).
She is also the Winner of the prestigious Pravasi Samman Award in 2012 and hopes for collaborations in India by getting PhD students in the area of materials research at SMaRT in UNSW Australia and collaborations with Indian institutions on joint research projects.