Testing Material Separation for a Novel Electronic Waste Recovery Process
Company Name: e-Materials Recovery, LLC
Program Office: Advanced Manufacturing
Location: Vienna, OH
Email: Dr. Henry Brandhorst, Managing Director
Award Amount: $280,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Idaho National Laboratory
The amount of electronic scrap is growing exponentially as access to electronic technology expands and as product service life for devices decreases. While much of this scrap is comprised of plastics, there are also significant amounts of precious and base metals and other valuable materials. Historically, these high-valued resources have been under-recovered domestically due to a lack of clean and economically viable means of extracting them from scrap. As a result, scrap is often sold on the open market and shipped to developing countries, where people wind up processing it using low-tech and dangerous processes.
e-Materials Recovery has developed a process which converts electronic scrap to a metal laden char while using plastics and toxic flame retardants to fuel the process. The company believes this process can meet U.S. environmental standards, allowing scrap to be processed domestically. This SBV Pilot will address the recovery of valuable metals from the enriched char through Idaho National Laboratory's conventional material separation processes. Preliminary economic estimates show promise for integrating these technologies, but further research is needed to uncover potential technical challenges and assess process requirements.
PROJECT INNOVATION + ADVANTAGES
Recovery options for scrap electronics domestically are limited due to challenges with existing approaches. Smelting, for instance, is not a clean process and requires extensive capital investment. Emission of dioxins from flame retardants during smelting is also a significant problem. Leaching processes, meanwhile, require expensive, large chemical volumes which limit their economic viability. e-Materials Recovery has demonstrated the elimination of the dioxin problem and utilizes plastics as fuel, making the recovery process self-sustaining. The company's use of an electricity driven process to dissolve and recover metals eliminates the need for large chemical volumes during processing. Integrating these technologies and processes could solve important challenges for domestic recovery.
Successfully deploying these technologies would allow the United States to develop a domestic electronic waste recovery industry. As it stands, almost all electronic waste is processed overseas, usually in developing countries with lax environmental standards and enforcement.
Current methods for recovering metals from electronic waste are low-tech and hazardous to the men, women and children who utilize them. Developing a cleaner process for recovery would create a healthier, alternative pathway for processing waste.
Precious metals are valuable strategic commodities. Developing more domestic sources of these metals would help insulate the United States from volatile global market fluctuations.
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