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The world’s first MicrofactorieTM that can transform the components from electronic waste (e-waste) items such as discarded smart phones and laptops into valuable materials for re-use was launched at the UNSW SMaRT Centre on 4 April 2018.

In launching the E-Waste MicrofactorieTM, the then NSW Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton said it was exciting to see technological innovations that could transform waste management and recycling.

“I am very pleased to launch the UNSW e-waste MicrofactorieTM  today, a NSW home-grown solution to the waste challenges facing communities all over the world,” Ms Upton said.

“It is exciting to see innovations such as this prototype microfactory and the potential they have to reduce waste and provide a boost to both the waste management and manufacturing industries in NSW.”

The E-waste MicrofactorieTM uses recovers the plastics and metals from e-waste by using a variety of technologies and devices. The waste is then reformed through thermal techniques into valuable metal alloys, thus enabling these rare earth metals and minerals to be recycled, whereas traditionally no effective recycling method has been available for this sort of waste.

Plastics can also be reformed into valuable filament for 3D printing and as a feedstock for manufacturing.

SMaRT Centre Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, said the E-waste Microfactorie® was the first of a series of microfactories under development and in testing at UNSW that can also turn many types of consumer waste such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.

For instance, from e-waste, computer circuit boards can be transformed into valuable metal alloys such as copper and tin while glass and plastic from e-devices can be converted into micromaterials used in industrial grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing.

“Our e-waste Microfactorie® and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too,” Professor Sahajwalla said.

“Using our green manufacturing technologies, these microfactories can transform waste where it is stockpiled and created, enabling local businesses and communities to not only tackle local waste problems but to develop a commercial opportunity from the valuable materials that are created.”

UNSW has developed the technology with support from the Australian Research Council and is now in partnership with a number of businesses and organisations including e-waste recycler TES, mining manufacturer Moly-Cop, and Dresden which makes spectacles.

Read an opinion editorial published in the Sydney Morning Herald about the new Microfactorie here, and see this 2020 Sky News Business story and video for more details, also published by the Daily Telegraph, and below watch a video of the filaments made from e-waste that featured in a presentation and gift by then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.