Electrochemical Recycling Electronic Constituents of Value (E-RECOV)

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Electrochemical Recycling Electronic Constituents of Value (eRECOV) offers a game-changing solution to growing challenges of electronic waste. The economical and environmentally sound process eliminates the need for traditional recycling methods such as smelting and cyanide leaching. The chemistry in eRECOV is continuously regenerated, and its solution is reusable. These efficiencies add up to a process that saves money, uses less energy and greatly reduces the waste stream.

The unique process incorporates an electrochemical cell to efficiently dissolve metals from devices, leading to more complete recovery of recyclable materials. In addition to precious metals (gold, silver, palladium), eRECOV efficiently reclaims copper, tin, zinc, lead, nickel and rare earth elements.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the United States generates nearly 3.5 million tons of electronic scrap annually, an amount that continues to grow. Today, America remains the world’s largest producer of electronic waste — “The Saudi Arabia of Scrap” according to Adam Minter’s book “Junkyard Planet.” Globally, mobile phone users alone are forecast to top 5 billion by 2019. Considering that most cellphones are designed to last less than two years, it’s clear the world faces a critical choice: recycle or contend with a mountain of e-waste.

Recycling presents a responsible way to keep outdated electronics from ending up in unwanted places where they can harm people, land and water. It also offers an opportunity to reclaim valuable metals for new products. Electronic waste is a rich feedstock for many of these metals. The United Nations has estimated that the value of materials that could be recycled from e-waste approaches $52 billion, including 300 tons of gold — equivalent to 11 percent of the world’s 2013 gold production. In fact, gold concentrations in e-waste are 2000 times greater than in the ores from which it was originally mined.

Yet the U.S. has no appreciable e-waste recycling or refining capacity. The problem has been a lack of affordable or environmentally friendly recycling options. The modern world desperately needs an alternative, less toxic process to recover precious metals from discarded electronic devices.

- Currently, much of the e-waste generated in the United States and other modern countries is shipped to developing countries in Africa or Asia where it is recycled or landfilled with environmentally deleterious methods. Processing in these countries typically involves manual deconstruction and open pit burning to remove non-metal insulation and support components. These uncontrolled processes expose workers and surrounding communities to a host of harmful compounds including heavy metals and dioxin.

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  • ABOUT THE ENTRANT

  • Name:
    Donna Baek
  • Type of entry:
    team
    Team members:
    Tedd Lister, Luis Diaz Aldana
  • Profession:
    Scientist
  • Donna is inspired by:
    Dr. Donna Ly Baek is a research chemist at Idaho National Laboratory specializing in supercritical fluids and metal extraction. At INL, she contributes her knowledge on supercritical fluid extraction to develop a supercritical fluid extraction and separation technique for recovering and recycling rare earth elements (REE).

    Dr. Fox is a senior chemical research scientist actively involved in proposing, capturing, performing, and directing innovative scientific research in the areas of analytical chemistry, process chemistry, electrochemistry, supercritical fluid sciences, nanomaterials synthesis and characterization, metal –complexation reactions, lanthanide and actinide separations, renewable and biofuel synthesis, geochemistry, environmental radiochemistry, LIBS atomic spectroscopy, laser spectroscopy, and molecular spectroscopy.

    Dr. Tedd Lister is an electrochemical scientist with Idaho National Laboratory with broad experience in energy storage, electrolysis, electrodeposition, and analytical electrochemistry. His work involves energy conversion reactions and surface processing for materials applications, also corrosion research, both applied and basic.
  • Patent status:
    patented