The SMaRT project has launched the world’s first microfactory designed to transform e-waste into materials that can be reused.The microfactory can transform components from electronic waste items, such as smartphones and laptops, into valuable materials for reuse. According to Venna Sahajwalla, one of the lead researchers behind the SMaRT project, 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 landfills or incinerators. Sahajwalla also claims it can also turn many types of consumer waste such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.
The microfactory is made up of small modules that are designed to break down the discarded electronic devices fed through the system, identify potentially useful components and fire up a temperature-controlled furnace to extract metals like copper and tin or transform them into metal allows that can be reused. A separate module could take the plastics from computer and printer housing and product filaments for 3D printing or materials for use in industrial-grade ceramics.
“We have proven you can transform just about anything at the micro-level and transform waste streams into value-added products,” commented the project’s Professor Veena Sahajwalla to UNSW publications. “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. These microfactories 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.”
The SMaRT e-waste microfactory was officially launched on April 4, and is reported to be the first in a series, with other modules being developed to tackle consumer waste.