Showcase Recap: Recycling Electronic Devices

Guest Contributor: Andrew Braddock, Washington State University

The average U.S. Family has 24 electronic devices. With rapidly changing technology, these devices are increasingly becoming obsolete. When thrown away, 40% of electronics go into a recycling stream outside of the U.S., and the rest end up in a landfill. In addition to containing electronic material that can be harmful to the environment, these devices also contain valuable metals, the most sought after being gold and palladium.

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) scientists have developed a patented technology called Electrochemically Recycling Electronic Constituents of Value (E-RECOV) which breaks down the metals that aren’t valuable, and leaves the gold and palladium behind. INL presented the technology at the 2018 CleanTech Innovation Showcase held June 25 in Seattle, WA.

The market challenge E-RECOV is taking on is continuing to recover the valuable metals from electronic devices, while avoiding high capital and large operational expenses. The current industry standard for separating valuable materials from electronic devices is smelting. However, this is a process that poses economic and environmental concerns. The advantages of E-RECOV include 80% lower energy consumption, fewer toxic emissions and safety concerns, and less manual labor compared to smelting. Perhaps best of all, E-RECOV is not dependent on fossil fuels.

Electronic scrap is a growing issue as electronic devices continue to proliferate to all aspects of our lives. With an increasing amount of waste, it is imperative to find ways to recycle this material in an environmentally conscious way, while also retaining the valuable materials that would otherwise sit in a landfill.

The challenge at the INL is scaling research up – from the lab to a pilot project, and then eventually to the commercial level. They are currently seeking development partners and industry collaborators to help advance the technology to reach that scale.