Scientists have come up with a new solution for the mounting piles of e-waste that are rapidly building upon the planet, which are estimated to reach 50 million metric tonnes of discarded electronics worldwide next year. According to the new study, we can simplify e-waste recycling by pulverising dumped electronics into nanodust which researchers say could be a more efficient and environment-friendly way of breaking down unwanted gadgets into ultra-fine particles that can then be repurposed.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL IN IT?
Compared with dumping e-waste into landfill or recovering metals and alloys via incineration and chemical treatments, the team says cryo-milling could be a much more economical use of discarded electronics.
Using a cryo-mill, engineers were able to mill printed circuit boards into nanoparticles that don’t contaminate one another. The team took two circuit boards from a computer mouse and used a cryo-mill to grind them at extremely cold temperatures of about -119 degrees Celsius. The cold grind particles were then placed in water to separate them. Then they can be reused and nothing is wasted.
Cryo-mill is a grinder that makes use of a freezing chamber to prevent heat-sensitive materials from melting together. The cryo-mill grinding chamber also contains argon gas and a small steel ball, which when agitated was able to pulverise the circuit boards into a powder made up of incredibly fine particles measuring between just 20 and 100 nanometres wide. For context, a human hair is approximately 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide, so we’re talking really, really tiny here.
While pulverising the circuits of one computer mouse won’t exactly solve our mountainous e-waste problems which estimated to exceed 1 billion tonnes of dumped electronics by 2030. The researchers used a small commercial cryo-mill in their study, but say the same kind of concept could be scaled up to industrial proportions to help fix our growing e-waste dilemma.