To recycle old gadgets, crush them into nanodust

Researchers have an idea to simplify electronic waste recycling: Crush it into nanodust.

Specifically, they want to make the particles so small that separating different components is relatively simple compared with processes used to recycle electronic junk now.

Chandra Sekhar Tiwary, a postdoctoral researcher at Rice University and a researcher at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, uses a low-temperature cryo-mill to pulverize electronic waste—primarily the chips, other electronic components, and polymers that make up printed circuit boards (PCBs)—into particles so small that they do not contaminate each other. Then they can be sorted and reused, he says.

Tiwary and his coauthors intend their idea to replace current processes that involve dumping outdated electronics into landfills, or burning, or treating them with chemicals to recover valuable metals and alloys. None is particularly friendly to the environment, Tiwary says.

“In every case, the cycle is one way, and burning or using chemicals takes a lot of energy while still leaving waste,” he says. “We propose a system that breaks all of the components—metals, oxides, and polymers—into homogenous powders and makes them easy to reuse.”

A billion tons by 2030

The researchers estimate that so-called e-waste will grow by 33 percent over the next four years, and by 2030 will weigh more than a billion tons. Nearly 80 to 85 percent of often-toxic e-waste ends up in an incinerator or a landfill, Tiwary says, and is the fastest-growing waste stream in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The answer may be scaled-up versions of a cryo-mill designed by the Indian team that, rather than heating them, keeps materials at ultra-low temperatures during crushing.

Cold materials are more brittle and easier to pulverize, Tiwary says. “We take advantage of the physics. When you heat things, they are more likely to combine: You can put metals into polymer, oxides into polymers. That’s what high-temperature processing is for, and it makes mixing really easy.

Key smartphone ‘ingredients’ could soon run out

“But in low temperatures, they don’t like to mix. The materials’ basic properties—their elastic modulus, thermal conductivity, and coefficient of thermal expansion—all change. They allow everything to separate really well,” he says.

Very cold crushing

As reported in Materials Today, the test subjects in this case were computer mice—or at least their PCB innards. The cryo-mill contained argon gas and a single tool-grade steel ball. A steady stream of liquid nitrogen kept the container at 154 kelvins (minus 182 degrees Fahrenheit).

Shaking makes the ball smash the polymer first, then the metals, and then the oxides just long enough to separate the materials into a powder, with particles between 20 and 100 nanometers wide. That can take up to three hours, after which a water bath separates the particles.

“Then they can be reused,” Tiwary says. “Nothing is wasted.”

Source: Rice University

The post To recycle old gadgets, crush them into nanodust appeared first on Futurity.

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Out majestic photo of the day comes from Calgary, Canada.

US Government Declassifies Cold War Nuclear Test Footage

Hundreds of films showing US nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1962 have been found, analyzed and declassified by physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), officials at the California-based research facility announced this week in a statement.

According to the laboratory, the US conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests over that span, and each test was recorded by multiple cameras. About 10,000 such films were made, capturing all of the action at a rate of about 2,400 frames per second, and stored in vaults around the country.

Eventually, the film started to decompose and threatened to destroy the footage the contained for good. So in 2012, LLNL weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a team of archivists, film gurus, and software developers joined forces on a project to locate, preserve and declassify those films.

“You can smell vinegar when you open the cans,” Spriggs said in a statement, “which is one of the byproducts of the decomposition process of these films. We know that these films are on the brink of decomposing to the point where they’ll become useless.”

“The data that we’re collecting now must be preserved in a digital form because no matter how well you treat the films, no matter how well you preserve or store them, they will decompose,” he added. “They’re made out of organic material, and organic material decomposes. So this is it. We got to this project just in time to save the data.”

Officials hope the footage will deter the use of nuclear weapons

Thus far, they have managed to locate nearly 6,500 of the atmospheric testing films, scanning an estimated 4,200, reanalyzing 400 to 500 of them and declassifying around 750, officials from the lab said. Dozens of those films, which feature tests conducted at LLNL with code names such as “Operation Plumbbob” and “Operation Teapot,” were published Tuesday on YouTube.

The project has not been easy, according to the laboratory. First, it took the team years to even track down many of the films, and once they did locate them, they discovered that they did not have a scanner capable of reproducing the films’ optical density. They overcame this by altering a Hollywood-style scanner, but doing so took nearly an entire year.

Next, they needed to find the data sheets for the test to find out the location of the cameras, their speed and the focal length before the contents of the footage could be properly analyzed. During this process, they discovered that much of the data published about the tests were incorrect. The films had to be reviewed using modern technology to ensure the accuracy of their contents.

Spriggs believes that it will take another two months or so to scan the remaining films, and even longer before they can be fully analyzed, declassified and made public. However, he said that he believes the work is of the utmost importance and intends to see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes.

“The legacy that I’d like to leave behind is a set of benchmark data that can be used by future weapon physicists to make sure that our codes are correct so that the U.S. remains prepared,” he said. “I think that if we capture the history of this and show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them.”


Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/YouTube

The post US Government Declassifies Cold War Nuclear Test Footage appeared first on Redorbit.

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