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Prototype e-waste microfactory wages a war on waste


The world’s first microfactory that can transform the components from electronic waste (e-waste) items such as discarded smart phones and laptops into valuable materials for re-use was launched at UNSW, Sydney in April 2018.

Using technology developed following extensive scientific research at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre), 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.

UNSW’s modular microfactories can operate on a site as small as 50 square metres and can be located wherever waste may be stockpiled. 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. The micromaterials 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, while the metal alloys can be used as metal components for new or existing manufacturing processes.





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