17 percent of all electronic waste worldwide is handled and processed in an environmentally sound manner.
As a result, large amounts of critically limited resources such as gold, platinum and tantalum are lost, and the amount of electronic waste is set to double in 2050 compared to today.
Develops technology and methods throughout the electronics supply chain
A new project partnership called CirkEL (circular electronics) will try to solve the many problems associated with electronic waste. In the project, a number of players in the electronics industry have come together to increase the degree of reuse and recycling of electronic products and sub-components in order to create a more sustainable electronics industry.
The Danish Technological Institute is at the head of the CirkEL project, where several links in the electronics supply chain are represented:
- Electronics manufacturers: Schneider Electric Denmark, Bang & Olufsen, KK Wind Solutions and Nilfisk
- Collectors and processors: Ragn-Sells Denmark
- Recycling and recovery companies: Trebo, Eldan Recycling and Techsave
- Logistikpartner: European Recycling Platform Denmark
The project will try to address the problem that electronics are rarely designed for easy repair, component reuse and recycling. Instead of the electronic products being discarded and important resources such as rare earths being lost, the actors in the project must develop technology and methods within five areas: Pre-sorting and decision-making for used electronics, separation of sub-components, reuse, recycling and circular design.
CO₂ reduction to a value of DKK 125 million. DKK
The project will contribute to significant CO₂ reduction and reduce the consumption of critical limited resources, including gold, platinum and silver, corresponding to a value of approximately DKK 125 million annually.
“The primary barrier to increasing the recycling rate of electronic products is that they are complexly designed and that refurbishing or recycling raw materials often does not pay off compared to buying new. We will therefore focus on developing automated separation processes and recycling technologies so that fewer valuable components and materials are lost – with a profitability that strengthens the incentive to invest in reuse and recycling,” says Christian Lundgaard, CSO at Trebo A/S.
Electronic waste must be able to be handled regardless of condition
As part of the project, the platform must also ensure that electronic products are processed with the most suitable technologies. It ensures that entire products and functional sub-components can be repaired and reused, and that regular electronic waste is separated so that valuable materials can be taken out and reused.
The company Techsave A/S, for example, has developed a patented cleaning and drying process that makes it possible to repair products that have been damaged by liquid, rust, salt or sugar. The company Eldan A/S develops facilities for the mechanical processing of electronic waste, so that iron, copper, aluminium, printed circuit boards and plastic can be sorted.
“The strength of the CirkEL project is that we take a holistic view of the available methods and technologies and work towards a concept that can handle electronic waste, regardless of its condition. In this way, we ensure that viable products can be produced on the market again, and that we get optimal use of the resources hidden in products that no longer work. It will help to move from a linear to a circular electronics industry,” says Aisha Rafique from the Danish Technological Institute.
The CirkEL project is supported by the Environmental Technology Development and Demonstration Program (MUDP) under the Ministry of the Environment and has been granted funding in the period 2023 to 2025.