Researchers at Swansea University are pioneering new engineering techniques for the benefit of the environment.
Dr Cris Arnold, a Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Engineering, is examining methods of recycling plastics from electrical equipment, including computers. He is working with Axion Recycling, a Manchester-based recycling company that develops and implements technology solutions for the waste management industry.
It is hoped that his research will lead to commercially viable processes that will enable vast amounts of plastics and chemicals to be recovered from waste equipment.
And the research could help businesses to comply with the European Community Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. The Directive requires manufacturers of electrical goods to take responsibility for the collection, recycling and disposal of waste equipment and it also demands that the waste collected is processed in an environmentally friendly way, either by ecological disposal or recycling.
‘Plastics easily account for over 50 per cent of electrical and electronic waste,’ said Dr Arnold, who is based within the University’s Materials Research Centre. ‘But they are complex materials made up of different chemicals. Our challenge is to identify ways of separating them out and making better use of them.’
‘The different plastics have different densities, so we can separate the various types of plastic by studying how they float or sink in certain liquids. We can then collect plastics according to type and decide on the best way of recycling them,’ he added.
Dr Arnold is also looking at pyrolysis, a method of heating materials to break them down into their constituent chemicals, oils and gases.
‘If we can separate out all the different chemicals we will be able to use them in other applications and thereby recycle literally all the plastic used in waste electrical goods.’