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Transforming electronic waste into new coating for metals

Researchers from UNSW Sydney have found a use for old printed circuit boards. This is to convert them, along with unwanted monitor components, to fabricate a new type of super-strong metal coating. This represents an innovative way to recycle redundant electronics, reducing the burden on landfill.

Discarded electronics cannot be readily re-used of transformed into new electronic devices. This is because so-termed “e-waste” is composed of small amounts of a variety of different materials, and these constituent materials cannot be easily separated. This means instead of reusing old circuit board a different use was needed in order to lower the environmental impact.

To this end, Australian scientists have undertaken a small-scale pilot microrecycling project. Here, as a proof-of-concept study, the scientists have succeeded in transforming old printed circuit boards and monitor components into a new type of very-strong metal coating.

The method of extraction, as Laboratory Manager reports, involved leveraging high-temperature reactions. For this the scientists heated glass and plastic powder from old computer monitors to very high temperatures. This produced silicon carbide nanowires. The nanowires were then mixed with ground-up circuit boards. The resultant product was placed onto the steel substrate and super-heated to produce a silicon-carbide enriched hybrid layer across the steel.

This process utilized silica, sourced from computer monitor glass; carbon obtained from plastic components of spent monitor shells; and copper, which was recovered from waste printed circuit boards. These materials were then combined to produce a high-quality hybrid layer that can be coated onto a steel substrate (a technique the research team have dubbed ‘material microsurgery’). The outcome was to create superior mechanical properties for the end product (the steel).

The research has been published in the journal ACS Omega. The research paper is: “Material Microsurgery: Selective Synthesis of Materials via High-Temperature Chemistry for Microrecycling of Electronic Waste.”

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