50M tonnes of e-waste is generated globally each year, the material value of this waste is worth at least £50bn. Millions of people across the world are thought to work informally recycling these materials through open burning, exposing themselves and the environment to toxic fumes which then find their way into the water supply and food chain, poisoning animals and humans.
A large amount of the value of this waste material is found within printed circuit boards (PCB’s), which are found in nearly all electronic equipment. There are up to 40 metals within the complex structure of a printed circuit board; gold, copper as well as many rare earth materials, many of which are used in technology such as our mobile phones. Scientists have warned some of these substances are running out due to their limited supply, their location in conflict zones and the high rate that technology such as mobile phones are being thrown out.
Formal recycling of printed circuit boards has traditionally come with a large carbon footprint, printed circuit boards can travel thousands of miles to refineries where they are burnt and a lot of the valuable material lost and not recovered.
N2S has been advocating and providing circular solutions for extending the life of technology for many years, but most recently has collaborated with Coventry University to develop a way of harnessing the power of nature, using BioTechnology to extract/ Urban mine the valuable material within printed circuit boards in an environmentally friendly way.
The Research and Development Project uses bacteria to extract metals from printed circuitboards and is funded through a government initiative known as the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) which enables the collaboration of academia and industry. Following on from this research, N2S have now built a BioTech laboratory at their Suffolk facility where this new refining process will be developed to help to close the loop on the circulatory of IT and drastically reduce its carbon and environmental footprint.
This solution has been recognised by DEFRA and we are proud to be a member of and supported by the DEFRA e-Sustainability Alliance (DeSA), a group focused on Sustainability in ICT and made up of Academia, Government & Industry leaders to work towards Global solutions in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
N2S are presenting this BioTechnology solution on 24th October at the Natural History Museum as part of a DEFRA event launching a guide to ICT Sustainability.