What to do with your old phone? INL’s E-RECOV may have the answer

IDAHO FALLS – People depend on electronics, and that addiction will only grow in the years to come. As new gadgets entice us to dispose of our old ones, we unwittingly become contributors to a major enigma to our world: e-waste.

The need to recycle electronics properly isn’t new, but it’s become more of a concern due to the rapid growth of the industry. The technology developed by the Idaho National Laboratory known as E-RECOV is working to combat this problem. It was developed with funding from the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute.

Using an electrochemical process to remove metals from electronic devices, E-RECOV eliminates the energy-intensive and expensive melting process. Currently, there is no operational foundry that directly handles e-waste in the United States, so the entire recycling effort must be outsourced to other countries. In contrast, the E-RECOV process can be done domestically, closing the loop for electronics recycling in the United States.

When E-RECOV reached a key stage of maturity, we launched a commercialization offering through the Small Business Innovation and Research, or SBIR, program,” said Ryan Bills, head of technology commercialization at INL. , which supports the E-RECOV research team. “The company that won the tender to market E-RECOV was Quantum Ventura.”

Even though Quantum Ventura led the SBIR offering, Bills and the E-RECOV research team said they needed technical support. This is where Faraday Technologies came into the picture.

“Faraday has built a real test and demonstration unit for E-RECOV,” said Tedd Lister, the project’s principal investigator at INL. “In January 2022, our research team had the opportunity to observe and validate this unit.”

The demo unit appears to be a success. After a week of observation, Lister said the team was confident it was performing near optimally. They identified a few possible adjustments, which Faraday has already completed.

The system will then be prepared or scaled and commissioned.

A snapshot of the E-RECOV system at the Faraday Technologies facility. | INL

“The SBIR project will be critical in moving this technology to commercial application,” Bills said. “Without the SBIR awards, the construction of the E-RECOV demonstration unit would not have been possible.”

This scaling process will help prepare the system for commercial operation. The lab-level system processes seven kilograms of metal per day, while a commercial system will need to be able to process at least 1,000 kilograms per day.

This scaling involves optimizing the size of the system, which means for E-RECOV to grow it to about four times its current size and then replicate it. The standard industrial-scale model will house multiple E-RECOV systems operating simultaneously. Based on its design, the technology could probably only be scaled to about three or four times its current size to suit an industrial-scale installation.

E-RECOV holds great promise for making electronics recycling more viable and sustainable. However, the research team knows the industry still has a long way to go.

“We need to make electronics recycling more accessible in addition to making it more sustainable,” Lister said. “Many people don’t even realize they can recycle their electronics, and the laws on improper disposal of these devices are left to the states. To ensure that we can successfully exploit the potential of E-RECOV, we also need to increase awareness of recycling electronics. »

However, this execution could never take place without the right tool: E-RECOV. As Bills put it, “DOE’s SBIR program paved the way for this technology, which could one day help us achieve sustainable electronics recycling for the very first time.”