Apr 5, 2018 | By David

An innovative new project recently launched in Australia should see the environmental impact of consumer electronics significantly reduced in the future. Located in New South Wales, it’s the world’s first e- waste microfactory, processing waste materials from phones and other digital equipment to be used for other purposes, such as making 3D printer filament. We reported on the initial designs for this micro-factory project a few months ago, and now the first one has been officially opened, at the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre).

According to a United Nations University study, Oceania (the region comprising Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, and Australasia) generates 15.2kg of e-waste per capita, as of 2014. There was a 63 percent increase in e-waste between 2010 and 2015, growing to a total of 12.3 million tonnes. Developed as a response to this huge growth in e-waste, the idea behind these new micro-factories is simple but effective, killing two birds with one stone. By converting old consumer technology products into re-usable materials for new and important technological applications like 3D printing, they are creating a virtuous loop that allows the issue of waste to be tackled at the same time as creating value.

“Our e-waste microfactory and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too,” said SMaRT Centre Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla. “Using our green manufacturing technologies, these microfactories can transform waste where it is stockpiled and created, enabling local businesses and communities to not only tackle local waste problems but to develop a commercial opportunity from the valuable materials that are created.”

The micro-factories can fit into sites as small as 50 square metres, with their modular design allowing for a high level of flexibility and adaptability. There are a number of different modules in the process, depending on the type of waste and what it will be used for. For example, discarded laptops and smartphone cases will first be broken down, and then a special robot will be brought in for the identification of useful elements amongst the waste. Another module involves using a small furnace to transforms these parts into valuable materials, by using a precisely controlled temperature process which was developed via extensive research.

Further modules are specific to the type of raw material that is being converted. Metal alloys salvaged from circuit boards can be re-used to make metal components for a variety of manufacturing processes, and the particularly serious problem of plastic waste is effectively managed, by converting the different quality plastics into types of filament that can be used for FDM/FFF 3D printing technology.

(All Images: UNSW)

UNSW developed this technology with support from the Australian Research Council, and it is now partnering with a number of businesses and organisations. These include another e-waste recycler TES, as well as the mining manufacturer Moly-Cop, which will make use of the end products after conversion, as will spectacle manufacturer Dresden.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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