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Singapore opens multi-million e-scrap recycling lab

Nanyang Technological University has launched a S$ 20 million (US$ 14.7 million) e-scrap research centre in Singapore. The new ‘recycling laboratory’ is meant to kick-start proper waste treatment of batteries and printed circuit boards across the island nation.  

Singapore generates about 60 000 tonnes of used electronics every year. This is equivalent to the weight of 220 Airbus A380 airplanes. In order to ensure high-standard recycling, Nanyang Technological University joined forces with the French Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission.

Making the most of batteries

The new e-scrap research facility had been dubbed the NTU Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy. It will attempt to extract ‘substantially more’ valuable metals from lithium-ion batteries. In fact, the goal is to recover 75% by weight of valuable materials like lithium, cobalt and manganese. According to the researchers involved, this is 15 times more than the current 5%.

NTU president Subra Suresh (left) at the opening of the centre with Senior Minister Amy Khor

Obviously, this is an ambitious target. To realise this, engineers at NTU have developed a special shredder to crush the batteries in an oxygen-free environment. Doing so prevents the batteries from burning up. Afterwards, the crushed material is dissolved in a chemical solution, followed by precipitation in a hydrometallurgical process.

More metals, clean plastics

Khor ensured R&D experts that the government is prioritising recycling

Meanwhile, the major investment in the brand-new lab is hoped to boost the recycling of silicon from solar panels. Moreover, the e-scrap centre wants to make the recycling of printed circuit boards cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Considering plastics is a major part of devices like printers and monitors, another mission is to ‘detoxify’ e-scrap plastics. Subsequently, the plastic is put through an advanced process which involves heating it using microwaves and breaking it down into fuel.

In addition, the centre is exploring how this high-grade plastic can be used for ‘ground-breaking applications’.  For example, to create filaments for 3D printing.

Masterplan for e-scrap

A guest of honour at the recent unveiling of the lab was Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources. She called the e-cycling lab a ‘significant and timely development’. Furthermore, Khor said it is vital that Singapore legislators build a close partnership with industry and research institutions ‘to overcome technological barriers’.

She had good news to share: the government plans to implement a mandatory nation-wide e-scrap management system by 2021.

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