French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission

03/13/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/13/2019 04:45

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

The new centre, named the NTU Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (NTU SCARCE),will focus on four research thrusts that address the recycling and recovery of materials from common e-waste such as discarded lithium-ion batteries and printed circuit boards.

This is CEA's first research centre outside of France. It will look at formulating advance e-waste separation and extraction techniques that are more eco-friendly and energy efficient than current methods.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore is supporting this NTU-CEA joint research centre under the agency's Closing the Waste Loop (CTWL) Research and Development (R&D) Initiative.[1] Together the three organisations are contributing S$20 million into this collaboration. Scarce is the first project who received funding from the Singapore National Environmental Agency's R & D program 'Closing The Waste Loop'.

The research centre was unveiled today by Singapore's Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor. It will support Singapore's drive towards becoming a Zero Waste nation by finding ways to reduce consumption of materials, and reusing and recycling them to give them a second lease of life.

With a strong focus on promoting sustainable industry processes, the joint centre's aims are also in line with NTU's focus in sustainability research.

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh, said, 'This joint research centre will grapple with one of the most increasingly important issues in recycling as the world continues to produce more electronic devices and e-waste. It will study new methods and technologies to process and recover precious materials from e-waste, while minimising environmental impact. This is also one of the core tenets of the NTU Smart Campus initiative, which aims to develop technologically advanced solutions for a sustainable future.'

CEA Deputy Chairman Dr. Laurence Piketty, said, 'The CEA has been collaborating with NTU since 2012 on materials science and the creation of the joint NTU-CEA laboratory, our first one to be implemented abroad, is a new decisive step in that way. More than 15 CEA researchers will spend extended periods in Singapore to strengthen this collaboration. This will make the most of CEA's world-renowned expertise and technologies in materials recycling and waste management. In collaboration with NTU, we will examine solutions for recycling batteries, solar panels and for the treatment of electronic waste, where our R&D and innovation will be translated into industrial processes for getting high value-added products'.

CTWL encourages collaborations among institutes of higher learning, research institutes and private sector partners, to develop technologies and solutions to tackle the challenges posed by increasing waste generation, scarcity of resources and land constraints for waste management.

Mr Tan Meng Dui, Chief Executive Officer of NEA, said, 'NEA is making steady and heavy investments in R&D initiatives to address our waste management challenges, and to better position Singapore for a more resource-efficient and sustainable future. A key thrust of NEA's technology masterplan is waste-to-resource R&D initiatives, which is aligned to our circular economy approach to move Singapore closer to its vision of a Zero Waste nation. We are delighted with this joint partnership with NTU Singapore and CEA France, in the form of SCARCE. The focus on e-waste is apt given the pervasiveness of digital technologies, and addresses both important resource recovery and public health needs.'

E-waste contain heavy metals that are both valuable and hazardous, which must be properly managed and disposed. The proper recycling of e-waste will not only protect human health and the environment, but also conserve resources from the materials recovered.

The NTU-CEA research centre has four research thrusts that will look into recycling and recovering materials from:

  • lithium-ion batteries;
  • silicon-based solar panels;
  • printed circuit boards from discarded e-waste; and
  • detoxifying plastic parts in e-waste.

For example, the joint lab will look into developing eco-friendly methods to recycle lithium ion batteries, and extract up to 75 per cent of metals such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese. These materials can be re-used to produce new lithium ion batteries.

One of the solutions involves using 'green chemistry' - a method that focuses on using chemical processes and earth-friendly products that minimises the use and generation of hazardous substances.

NTU Professor Madhavi Srinivasan, co-director of the centre, said, 'In Singapore, about 60,000 tonnes or 11kg of e-waste per person are generated each year. This lab will support the nation's mission to find new ways to recycle e-waste in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner while at the same time, extract materials that can be re-used again.'

Printed circuit boards are also important e-waste products. These are thin copper plated or etched circuitry boards where integrated chips and other electronic components are mounted on.

These boards often consist of metals such as copper, aluminium, gold and silver, as well as valuable organics and ceramics which are often lost during incineration.

Current industrial recycling processes emit harmful pollutants and/or liquid waste that require costly treatment processes so that they can be safely released into the environment.

Researchers will develop novel methods to separate and recover as much organics and ceramics for a variety of applications.

Co-Director Dr Jean-Christophe P. Gabriel said, 'Closing the materials loop is a key challenge to enabling a sustainable environment. Electronic waste recycling concentrates many of the issues that must be solved and is the perfect testbed towards that aim. Together with my colleagues in CEA, we are thrilled by this opportunity to work in synergy with our Singapore partners.'

Using the same principles of recovering precious materials and reducing environmental harm, the lab will also find sustainable solutions to process solar panel e-waste and toxic plastic materials.

Researchers will explore ways to extract silicon and metals from solar panels, which could help reduce the costs to produce new panels. They will also develop a systematic approach to safely sort, detoxify and recycle hazardous plastic materials from e-wastes.

The agreement to set up the research centre on NTU's campus was formalised last year to signify Singapore's strong ties with France and the 2018 France-Singapore Year of Innovation.

Lithium ion batteries © CEA-Leti

Photovoltaic cell © CEA-Liten Ines

[1] CTWL is supported by the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of National Development as part of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020), with a funding of S$45 million under the Urban Solutions and Sustainability (USS) domain.