ATMI Inc. has introduced the eVOLV process and system that represents a sustainable solution for recycling electronic waste (e-waste). The safe, cost-effective process is fully automated and uses energy-efficient methods in a scalable, closed-loop system to recover metal resources from electronic circuit boards.
ATMI’s news came on the second day of the e-Waste Management Summit in Las Vegas, NV, as part of a panel discussion that included executive director of the Basel Action Network and toxic trade activist Jim Puckett and ATMI’s senior director of sustainable technologies, Dr. Michael Korzenski.
Following green chemistry development principles, the eVOLV process and system was designed as a chemical-based, non-toxic approach that is environmentally benign. It would comply with government guidelines to be free from the restrictions and hazards of traditional "dirty" approaches.
The process includes de-soldering, component/chip recovery, and metal reclaim, with 99% of most metals extracted, and at 99% purity. These metals, which include gold, silver, copper, palladium, lead, and tin, can be recovered and redeployed significantly faster and safer than in most other processes and can re-enter the supply chain as "process-ready" materials.
The amount of e-waste being generated continues to be a growing global concern. According to industry sources, more than 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated per year, with approximately 72 million metric tons projected by 2014. Much of it ends up in developing countries, where toxic and dangerous processes are being utilized to recover precious metals and components.
The eVOLV chemistries were designed using the 12 principles of Green Chemistry, an approach developed and advocated by the Warner Babcock Institute of Green Chemistry.
While representing less than 2% of the mass in U.S. landfills today, e-waste accounts for 70% of the heavy metals. Approximately 5% of e-waste by weight consists of PWBs and, while some are repaired and resold, most are shipped to destinations outside the U.S. for disposal. Those with high metal value are sold to overseas smelters. Those with low value are sent to Asia or Africa where the chips are manually de-soldered and the trace precious metals are collected either by dangerous open-burning or from chemical leaching using highly toxic chemicals such as hot aqua regia and cyanide–processes that have adverse environmental and personal health implications.
While environmentally impactful, there is also a commercial advantage in recycling. For example, the resource recovery available from recycling one ton of used mobile phones, around 6,000 handsets, is about 3.5 kg of silver, 340 g of gold, 140 g of palladium, and 130 kg of copper. The combined value is just over $25,000, which equates to around $4.2 billion annually. What’s more, one metric ton of e-waste from personal computers contains more gold than that recovered from 17 tons of gold ore.