It is a first world problem – what to do with your old electronics when you upgrade? Stick them in a drawer or toss them in the bin? In our gadget-obsessed society, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is one of the fastest growing waste streams. Every year millions of tonnes of electronics are thrown away and with them the valuable metal components, like copper, gold, silver, copper, solder, steel and critical metals such as indium and tantalum.

Ireland is particularly good at recycling WEEE, but even with the best intentions, limitations of current technologies mean that not all metals can actually be recovered. However, a new project led by University College Cork is finding ways to make this so-called ‘urban-mining’ more lucrative.

Launched today, the RecEOL project, which is co-funded by the Geological Survey Ireland, Environmental Protection Agency and the ERA-MIN2 funding programme, will use two patented recycling processes developed in Ireland for WEEE such as waste printed circuit boards (PCBs), LCDs, batteries and automobile shredder residue (ASR) to reclaim over 95% of recycled copper, aluminium, steel and solder. This exceeds the current recovery rates of 70-80%. The process will also be the first recycling technology of its kind to capture critical and special metals, such as indium and tantalum from PCBs and LCDs.

The technology behind RecEOL has been developed by Dr Frank Riedewald, Composite Recycling Ltd., Cork who joined forces with Dr Maria Sousa Gallagher, School of Engineering and the Environmental Research Institute of UCC, in the development and execution of the project. The aim of RecEOL is to demonstrate at pilot plant scale that a scaled-up commercial plant is economically viable and environmentally preferred. International partners in the project include the Technische Universitӓt Bergakademie Freiberg (Germany), and industrial end-users of the technology such as Coolrec BV (Belgium), Muldenhütten Recycling und Umwelttechnik GmbH (Germany) and Alumisel S.A.U. (Spain).

Speaking at the project launch in UCC, Dr Sousa Gallagher, said “The RecEOL project brings together a multi-disciplinary, multi-national consortium from industry and academia to solve the challenges while realising the recycling business opportunities. This project will provide the scientific evidence that the process works and uses this evidence to design a full-scale plant for incorporation of the technology into the circular economy”.

Dr Frank Riedewald of Composite Recycling Ltd. added “This project is an important award for us. It will provide the vital market evidence for the commercialisation of the technology “.

 The Irish Project partners project are funded by the Geological Society of Ireland (GSI) / Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ref number of the project is 2018-ERAMIN2-004. For further information on ERA-MIN2 and other funded projects, please visit: https://www.era-min.eu/sites/default/files/docs/era-min_funded_projects_2017_table.pdf.