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Rediff.com  » Getahead » This Indian scientist turns e-waste into valuable materials

This Indian scientist turns e-waste into valuable materials

April 22, 2018 08:20 IST

Mumbai-born Veena Sahajwalla has developed a microfactory in Australia to upcycle electronic waste. 

Veena Sahajwalla

Veena Sahajwalla has launched the world's first microfactory to transform electronic waste into valuable materials. 
Photograph: Kind courtesy University of New South Wales

How do you discard old desktops, smartphones and laptops? You can't dump e-waste in a bin like you get rid of other daily use items.

Indian-Australian scientist Prof Veena Sahajwalla has found a solution.

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Kanpur-alumni helped launch the world's first micro factory that can transform electronic waste (e-waste) -- like smart phones and laptops -- into valuable materials for re-use.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, a materials scientist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the Sydney-based varsity, said the e-waste micro factory is the first of a series under development and in testing at UNSW.

These micro factories can also turn many types of consumer waste such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.

Using technology developed after extensive scientific research at the SMaRT Centre, the e-waste micro factory has the potential to reduce the rapidly growing problem of vast amounts of electronic waste that cause environmental harm and go into landfills.

The micro factory was recently launched at the SMaRT Centre laboratories.

Veena Sahajwalla with councillor Linda Scott

"Thanks to Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla for showing us that, in the face of a global recycling crisis, her innovations at UNSW have the potential to ensure recycling can continue to produce reusable materials for a more sustainable future," councillor Linda Scott, Australian Labor Party wrote on Facebook.Photograph: Kind courtesy Councillor Linda Scott/Facebook

According to Sahajwalla, micro factories present a solution to burning and burying of waste items that contain materials that can be transformed into value-added substances and products to meet existing and new industry and consumer demands.

The micro factories can use e-waste like computer circuit boards to make valuable metal alloys such as copper and tin, while glass and plastic from e-devices can be converted into micro materials used in industrial grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing.

"Our e-waste -- and another under development for other consumer waste types -- offer a cost effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too," the Mumbai-born Sahajwalla, who did her BTech in metallurgical engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1986, said.

In 2005, she invented a process known as 'green steel', which uses recycled plastics and rubber tyres in steelmaking, replacing coke and coal in electric arc steel furnaces.

Her green steel technology was named in the 2012 list of Innovations that could change the way we manufacture by the US Society for Manufacturing Engineers.

The technology is thought to have diverted over two million rubber tyres from landfill since 2009.

Veena Sahajwalla with councillor Linda Scott

"This award is a great opportunity for India and Australia to connect. This award for my work in recycling of waste is a great way to engage with the Indian industrial sector where even India faces lots of challenges," Sahajwalla told Rediff.com at Pravasi Bhartiya DivasPhotograph: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Sahajwalla terms micro factories a "truly sustainable solution to our growing waste problem while offering economic benefits available to local communities".

"We have proven you can transform just about anything at the micro-level and transform waste streams into value-added products. For example, instead of looking at plastics as just a nuisance, we've shown scientifically that you can generate materials from that waste stream to create smart filaments for 3D printing," she said.

"These micro factories can transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in remote locations where typically the logistics of having waste transported or processed are prohibitively expensive. This is especially beneficial for the island markets and the remote and regional regions of the country."

These micro factories can operate on a site as small as 50 square metres and can be located wherever waste may be stockpiled.

Source: ANI