Environment

Microfactory gives e-waste new value

Microfactory gives e-waste new...
Minister for the Environment for New South Wales Gabrielle Upton (left) and the SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla at the launch of the world's first e-waste microfactory
Minister for the Environment for New South Wales Gabrielle Upton (left) and the SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla at the launch of the world's first e-waste microfactory
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Electronic waste can be broken down and repurposed into materials useful for industrial and commercial applications using SMaRT's e-waste microfactory
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Electronic waste can be broken down and repurposed into materials useful for industrial and commercial applications using SMaRT's e-waste microfactory
The SMaRT e-waste microfactory is made up of small modules, which can break down and repurpose electronic waste where it's stockpiled
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The SMaRT e-waste microfactory is made up of small modules, which can break down and repurpose electronic waste where it's stockpiled
A robotic arm module at the e-waste microfactory identifies components that can be broken down and repurposed
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A robotic arm module at the e-waste microfactory identifies components that can be broken down and repurposed
The SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla getting on top of the e-waste problem
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The SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla getting on top of the e-waste problem
Minister for the Environment for New South Wales Gabrielle Upton (left) and the SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla at the launch of the world's first e-waste microfactory
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Minister for the Environment for New South Wales Gabrielle Upton (left) and the SMaRT project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla at the launch of the world's first e-waste microfactory

The unstoppable march of next generation technology unfortunately means that today's must-haves are destined for tomorrow's electronic waste mountains. It's a growing problem, and one which Australia's University of South Wales Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology has an answer to. The SMaRT project has launched the world's first microfactory designed to transform e-waste into materials that can be re-used.

According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2017 report, over 44 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated during 2016, which could rise to 52.2 metric tonnes by 2021. The SMaRT project at UNSW aims to turn e-waste into a valuable resource and prevent old smartphones, laptops, computers, printers and so on from ending up in landfill or in an incinerator.

The e-waste microfactory can be built at a site where e-waste is stockpiled and can operate in a space as small as 50 square meters (540 sq ft). The modular nature of the design also allows for site-specific flexibility.

The SMaRT e-waste microfactory is made up of small modules, which can break down and repurpose electronic waste where it's stockpiled
The SMaRT e-waste microfactory is made up of small modules, which can break down and repurpose electronic waste where it's stockpiled

It's made up of a series of small modules that are designed to break down the discarded electronic devices fed through the system, identify potentially useful components and fire up a temperature-controlled furnace to extract metals like copper and tin or transform them into metal alloys that can be re-used. A separate module could take the plastics from computer and printer housing and produce filaments for 3D printing or materials for use in industrial-grade ceramics.

"We have proven you can transform just about anything at the micro-level and transform waste streams into value-added products," said the project's Professor Veena Sahajwalla. "For example, instead of looking at plastics as just a nuisance, we've shown scientifically that you can generate materials from that waste stream to create smart filaments for 3D printing. These microfactories can transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in remote locations where typically the logistics of having waste transported or processed are prohibitively expensive. This is especially beneficial for the island markets and the remote and regional regions of the country."

The SMaRT e-waste microfactory was officially launched on April 4, and is reported to be the first in a series, with other modules being developed to tackle consumer waste. The video below has more on the SMaRT microfactory project.

Source: UNSW

Micro-factories - turning the world's waste burden into economic opportunities

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