Every year, humanity generates tens of millions of tons of electronic waste. In fact, the question of their recycling has been a subject of discussion for decades, but remains for the moment without a valid answer. However, South Korean researchers believe they have found an interesting solution to the problem.

A major problem

In early July 2020, a report by the UN Global Electronic Waste Observatory confirmed the production of 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste in 2019. However, this trend concerning waste of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE ) has increased by 21% in five years! Worse yet, researchers at the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership estimate that by 2030, the amount of this waste will reach around 74 million tons.

The question of recycling electronic waste has been raised for years. Unfortunately, the proliferation of digital uses, planned obsolescence, limitations in terms of repair have made difficult to manage the resulting waste. In addition, the lack of state action also plays a role. However, the heart of the problem lies in the recycling and recovery processes of rare or valuable materials like gold and copper. The point is that these processes are complex and very expensive in energy.

What if chemistry could be a solution? The Higher Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) of South Korea recently introduced a new polymer with the name COP-180. This, presented in a study published in the journal PNAS on June 22, 2020, could revolutionize the recycling of EEE (Electrical and Electronic Equipment) waste.

An attractive method

The composition of the COP-180 polymer is based on porphyrin, a molecule with absorbent capacities thanks to its heteroclite structure. According to researchers, this porous polymer has the ability to hold certain metal atoms such as gold. South Korean scientists presented the results of their tests. There is talk of capturing 94-99% of the gold in circuit boards.

The process is quick (half an hour) and would be easy and economical to set up. In fact, the project leaders estimate that the production of the polymer costs around $ 5 per gram. On the other hand, if we think in terms of economic return, the interest seems enormous. And for good reason, each gram of polymer can capture the equivalent of 64 dollars in gold. Thus, the method should logically interest several specialized companies.

However, the researchers did not discuss the recovery of other materials. However, electronic waste is far from containing only gold. These include rare earths, whose overexploitation is a risk factor for our development but also for the environment.

Steven Peck

Working as an editor for the Scientific Origin, Steven is a meticulous professional who strives for excellence and user satisfaction. He is highly passionate about technology, having himself gained a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida in Information Technology. He covers a wide range of subjects for our magazine.