In Europe, the amount of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is 13 million tons per year (13% of municipal waste) and is expected to increase at a rate of at least 3% to 5% per year: three times higher than the growth of the average municipal waste. End-of-life equipment contains hazardous materials, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, engineering plastics, precious metals, platinum group metals and rare earth metals. As EU industry becomes more dependent on these manufacturing materials for electrical, electronic and other advanced products, it is being called upon to increase its Reuse, Recycling and Recovery (3R) strategies.
TWI has won an EU-sponsored collaborative project to apply its expertise in solvent technology to recycle rare earth metals contained in flat-panel displays and televisions. The recycling process involves the use of tailor-made solvents to separate metals, in pure form, from the appliances so they can be reused in other manufacturing processes.
Purpose-built software and test rig
Working from a dedicated solvent development laboratory and using its unique software tool, TWI is already demonstrating its competence in the design and selection of 'green' solvents as replacements for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in such extraction processes. The software allows the solvent engineering team to rapidly and accurately screen large numbers of solvents against multiple predetermined criteria; these are then tested in a specially constructed pilot rig up to a scale of 100ltr volumes.
The screening process allows the team to simultaneously assess as varied requirements as solubility, boiling point, viscosity, toxicity and cost - enabling the selection of a solvent genuinely optimised around the specific needs of the process. The software is invaluable where no commercially available solvent is found to fit the criteria, as it can be used as a design tool to 'build' a new solvent at molecular level around specified requirements. TWI has identified that the key to effective design and selection of the 'right' solvent lies in matching the properties of the solvent as closely as possible to the requirements of the process.
The collaborative project, RECYVAL-NANO, will develop new methods of recycling valuable metals through development of a complete process for recuperation of indium, yttrium and neodymium from Flat Panel Displays (FPDs) and their reuse in the production of Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), europium-doped yttria (Y2O3:Eu+3) and Nd-Fe-B magnetic nanoparticles for high-tech applications.
Solvent engineering at TWI
TWI is actively involved in the development of novel media for range of high-value applications, including polymer recycling; carbon dioxide capture from post-combustion exhaust gases, mineral extraction, extraction of natural products, anti-icing formulations, cleaning fluids.
For further information please contact Damien Kirkpatrick.