1In a electronic devices/products dependent life-style of digital age, electronic devices suffer to be changed or replaced with a short life span, changing dimensions & specification, level of functionality, limited durability and growing number of users.  Electronic waste, or ewaste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the end of their useful life. E-Waste includes almost any household or business item containing circuitry or electrical components with either power or battery supply. Although e-waste is a general term, it can be considered to denote items such as TV appliances, computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, white goods – for example, fridges, washing machines, dryers– home entertainment and stereo systems, toys, toasters and kettles. The e-waste problem is of global concern because of the nature of production and disposal of waste in a globalized world. 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. 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.  It is difficult to quantify global e-waste amounts, but we do know that large volumes end up in places where processing occurs at a very rudimentary level. This raises concerns about resource efficiency and also the immediate concerns of the dangers to humans and the environment.

E-waste is full of valuable resources, like precious and base metals, plastics and glass that we can’t afford to waste. The concentration of copper in e-waste, for example, is higher than in virgin ore. The $1 trillion global electronics industry generated about 42 million tonnes of obsolete equipment in 2014, a potential loss of some $52 billion worth of embedded resources. Extracting virgin raw materials is expensive and emissions-intensive so we have much to gain, economically and environmentally, by recovering resources from waste streams like e-waste. Second, e-waste also contains toxic elements, so it’s dangerous to stockpile it or divert it to landfill. The complex mix of materials and toxic elements in e-waste means resource recovery is technically very challenging and the conventional industrial scale processes available today are very expensive. Although some developed countries have imposed regulations requiring e-waste to be recycled, cheaper options are often found by shipping large quantities of e-waste to poorer, less regulated nations. This largely undocumented global trade in e-waste exposes low-paid workers to dangerous contaminants, and communities to serious environmental pollution.

 

Different methods based on principles of recycle, re-use and reduce are being developed to manage e-waste. Efforts are being made to make use of different components from e-waste by transforming them into valuable materials and reused. Despite best industrial efforts to tackle e-waste, the heaps of e-waste are exponentially increasing all over the world and the most effective method to take care of e-waste management and utilization still remains the decades old manual method of metal and other useful elements extraction method which is highly unsafe.  Need is to develop a fast, safe, cost effective and environmental friendly method which can tackle e-waste by converting its each and every part into useful products. Recently, in this direction, an Indian-origin scientist in Australia has launched the world’s first microfactory that can transform the components from electronic waste items such as smartphones and laptops into valuable materials for re-use. According to the researcher, the e-waste microfactory has the potential to reduce the rapidly growing problem of vast amounts of electronic waste causing environmental harm and going into landfill. It can also turn many types of consumer waste such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products. For instance, computer circuit boards can be transformed into valuable metal alloys such as copper and tin while glass and plastic from e-devices can be converted into micromaterials used in industrial grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing.

2Working of microfactory

A microfactory is one or a series of small machines and devices that uses patented technology to perform one or more functions in the reforming of waste products into new and usable resources. The e-waste microfactory that reforms discarded computers, mobile phones and printers has a number of small modules for this process and fits into a small site.  The discarded devices are first placed into a module to break them down. The next module may involve a special robot for the identification of useful parts. Another module

then involves using a small furnace which transforms these parts into valuable materials by using a precisely controlled temperature process developed via extensive research. These transformed materials include metal alloys and a range of micromaterials. These can be used in industrial-grade ceramics while the specific quality plastics from computers, printers and other discarded sources can be put through another module that produces filaments suitable for 3D-printing applications. The metal alloys can be used as metal components for new or existing manufacturing processes.

 

The 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. Using 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. Microfactories present a solution to burning and burying waste items that contain materials which can be transformed into value-added substances and products to meet existing and new industry and consumer demands. The modular microfactories can operate on a site as small as 50 square metres and can be located wherever waste may be stockpiled. The advantage of this technology is that it is configured to suit the microfactory concept. This, simply put, means that the technology can solve e-waste problems almost anywhere as the microfactories can be deployed almost anywhere in the world. This overcomes the need for centralized collection and long distance transport associated with industrial scale e-waste recycling.

The e-waste is crushed to expose its various components, enabling pre-programmed automated drones and robotic arms to pick out its various parts such as plastic casings, resource-rich printed circuit boards (PCBs), glass screens etc. The identification of valuable components is performed by drones, while the sorting is performed by the robotic arms. At lower temperatures, plastic waste can be transformed into printing filaments (a valuable consumable in a rapidly growing market). The sorted PCBs are in themselves a high value commodity, which can be sold to commercial smelters or fed into a small high temperature furnace within the e-waste microfactory.  By precise control of the furnace temperature and operating conditions, metals and metal alloys can be selectively produced. All processes operate outside the temperature range at which dangerous furans and dioxin are formed, overcoming risks of toxicity.