In an effort to solve one of the most pressing issues of our times, UNSW ARC Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla has developed micro-factories to turn unwanted electronics into valuable metal alloys. This is expected to solve the problem of global e-waste to a great extent.

Her idea materialized when she realized the gravity of the problem and started working towards its solutions.

“The world urgently needs a safe, low cost recycling solution for e-waste. Our approach is to enable every local community to transform their e-waste into valuable metal alloys, instead of leaving old devices in drawers or sheds, or sending them to landfill,” said Professor Sahajwalla in a report published by UNSW on its site.

According to a recent United Nations Environment Program report, the US$1 trillion global electronics industry generated about 42 million tonnes of obsolete equipment in 2014, a potential loss of some US$52 billion worth of embedded resources.

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The following are some key aspects of this micro-industry-:

1. It is a safe and a cost-effective mining of e-waste stockpiles locally, anywhere in the world

2. This solution will replace the method of hand processing to recover metals as it exposed poor communities to dangerous contaminants.

3. She uses precisely controlled high-temperature reactions to produce copper and tin-based alloys from waste printed circuit boards (PCBs), while simultaneously destroying toxins.

4. A programmed drone is able to identify PCBs from within crushed e-waste, and a simple robot is used to extract them, overcoming the risks of contamination, before the PCBs are fed into the furnace.

5. Another important feature is that they are suitable for mobile use. They can be set up in containers and transported to waste sites, avoiding the huge costs and emissions of trucking or shipping e-waste over long distances.

6. It provides employment to people living in developing nations.

“We already understand the value of sourcing green energy from the sun, similarly we can source valuable green materials from our waste. ‘Mining’ our waste makes sense for both the economy and the government”, she said.

We need more such conscientious women leaders who understand the enormity of environmental problems and strive to combat those.

Image credits: Alchetro

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