Closing the loop in sustainable design: A novel recycling technology for reclaiming rare earth elements and specialty metals from E-Waste

Electronic waste (E-Waste), also known as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), is the term used to describe end-of-life appliances that use electricity. Many of these advanced electronics products contain specialty metals and rare earth elements. As new products increasingly rely on these valuable materials, concern has risen surrounding the environmental, economic, and sociopolitical stability of the long-term supply of these metals. These factors compound to make metal recovery in E-Waste a critical need in the industry and for the environment.

Study

We have an ongoing research project that focuses on building a novel technology to reclaim and separate these specialty and rare earth metals from E-Waste. Our focus is on using nano-enabled materials to increase recycling efficiencies for these valuable materials. In doing so, we have developed a filter apparatus using polymer amended-carbon nanotube (CNT) filters that can selectively separate two metals from a mixed metal waste stream.

Impact

This technology could offer several advantages including enhanced recovery of high-value specialty minerals using low-cost filters, reduced need for mining Earth-rare minerals in politically unstable or environmentally undesirable locations, enhanced atom economy during device fabrication, and reduced emissions of toxic elements or nascent industrial minerals that have yet unknown toxicities or environmental impacts.

Presentation

M. P. O’Connor and D. L. Plata. The race for the gold metal: A novel approach for reclaiming specialty metals from industrial waste and processing streams. National American Chemical Society 249th Spring Meeting. Denver, CO. March 2015. Poster.

M. P. O’Connor and D. L. Plata. Nano-enabled material efficiency: Reclaiming specialty metals from industrial waste and processing streams. Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference. Boston, MA. November 2014. Poster.

M. P. O’Connor and D. L. Plata. The race for the gold metal: A novel approach for reclaiming specialty metals from industrial waste and processing streams. Gordon Research Seminar: Environmental Sciences: Water. Holderness, NH. June 2014. Invited Talk.