Tiny Tech #34: Nanotube Recycling of Electronic Waste

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

Got your cell phone with you? I thought so. Like many other everyday electronic devices we cannot live without, your phone contains tiny amounts of scarce but critical rare earth elements, such as praseodynium and europium. Our seemingly insatiable appetite for the latest electronics means that the current global demand for these elements is far greater than theavailable supply.

One obvious solution would be to recycle our obsolete electronics and recover these traceelements so we can reuse them in the next generation of devices. However, conventional waste recovery methods used by industry are not cost effective for trace metals because they are only present in tiny amounts.

Enter nanotechnology in the form of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which possess a unique combination of high surface area, conductivity and chemical stability. These nanotubes have been used in porous meshes, that look something like a plate of squid ink spaghetti. They can be used in a small device, no larger than a coffee maker, to remove and recover trace metals from electronic device waste in a cost-effective manner.

So when your phone dies, nanotubes could prevent its rare elements from disappearing without a trace!

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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