Engineer transforms e-waste into everything but Tuesday, 01 May 2018

The world’s first microfactory that can transform the components from electronic waste into valuable materials for re-use has been launched in Sydney by Engineers Australia Honorary Fellow, Professor Veena Sahajwalla.

Using technology developed at the University of New South Wales Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre), the e-waste microfactory has “the potential to reduce the rapidly growing problem of vast amounts of discarded smart phones and laptops causing environmental harm and going into landfill”.

SMaRT Centre Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who is renowned in the area turning ‘waste to value’, said the e-waste microfactory was the first of a series of microfactories under development and in testing at UNSW. These microfactories, she believes, will be able to turn many types of consumer waste streams such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.

The technology involves using precisely controlled high temperature reactions that selectively break and reform the waste into green materials and products. And Professor Sahajwalla has a strong belief that engineers will be at the forefront of these types of solutions for society.

          “I still believe it will be engineers who can deliver previously unimaginable solutions, like green manufacturing, 

           which is an area that will transform the manufacturing industry."

The professor revealed that computer circuit boards, for instance, can be transformed into metal alloys such as copper and tin. And plastic and glass from electronic devices can be converted into micromaterials which are used in industrial-grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing. And it’s safe, cost-effective and offers new job opportunities.

Microfactories present a solution to burning and burying waste items, according to Professor Sahajwalla, transforming them into value-added substances and products to meet existing and new industry and consumer demands.

"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,” she explained.

Professor Sahajwalla believes the model of microfactories has the ability to transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in rural or remote locations where the logistics of having waste transported or processed are very expensive.

Image source: UNSW