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NTU Singapore partners the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission to develop innovative e-waste recycling technologies

The joint lab has four research thrusts that include recycling and recovering materials from e-waste such as discarded lithium-ion batteries and printed circuit boards. It will also look at developing advance separation and extraction processes of e-waste that are less energy-intensive and less toxic than current methods.

With a strong focus on promoting sustainable industry processes, the joint lab’s aims are in line with NTU’s focus in sustainability research to develop industry-driven solutions for a greener future.

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh said that e-waste is becoming the world’s fastest-growing trash stream as consumer electronics such as mobile phones are constantly being replaced. The NTU-CEA Joint Lab aims to devise more efficient processes for recycling e-waste so that materials, like the rare earth metals from used electronics, can be safely extracted and reused. He added that the university strives to ensure that research ideas nurtured at the lab are translated into practical, scalable and industry-driven solutions that will benefit society.

The CEA Chairman, Dr François Jacq, stated that more than fifteen of the CEA’s top researchers will make extended stays in Singapore to strengthen this collaboration and leveraging the CEA’s world-renowned expertise and technologies in material recycling and waste management; solutions to e-waste management challenges will be addressed with the perspective of translating R&D and innovation into high value-added industrial products and processes. He added that NTU and CEA will also collaborate with the National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore to set up the Singapore CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (SCARCE), with the three organisations committing S$20 million to it.

SCARCE will look into developing innovative recycling technologies that can sort, dismantle, and recover materials that can be re-used in an energy-efficient and environmentally benign way.

SCARCE is the first project that has received funding from NEA’s Closing The Waste Loop research funding initiative. The S$45 million Closing The Waste Loop research funding initiative by NEA encourages collaborations among institutes of higher learning, research institutes, and private sector partners, to develop technologies and solutions to tackle challenges posed by increasing waste generation, scarcity of resources and land constraints for waste management.

Developing Sustainable Solutions

The NTU–CEA Joint Lab will have four research thrusts that include recycling and recovering materials from:

    i.   Lithium-ion batteries;

    ii.   Silicon-based solar panels;

   iii.   Printed circuit boards (PCBs) from discarded consumer electronics; and

   iv.   Toxic plastics in e-waste such as brominated plastics which has flame retardants to meet fire safety standards.

NTU and the CEA researchers will also address issues faced when using current extraction methods of precious metals from lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, and PCBs, which consume large amounts of energy and use strong acids.

To overcome such challenges, the joint lab will explore advanced processes such as using environment-friendly solvents (e.g. organic liquid salts) to dissolve and extract selective metals.

The partnership will also explore using activation means and chemical reactions to dissolve materials and also study the use of bacteria and fungi species to extract metals and toxic elements from recyclable materials.

Besides metals, recycling technologies developed may also be applied to plastics, wood, and building materials.

With the CEA's world-renowned expertise in metal extraction and materials recycling with extensive industrial deployment, and NTU's excellence in R&D translation and innovation in environmental sustainability, this collaboration stands to boost local R&D capabilities in e-waste management and recycling.

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