Researchers develop method for recycling plastic from electronic products

University researchers based at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center have developed a method for sustainable recycling of the plastic found in electronic products.

The research is led by Sriram Chandrasekaran, assistant professor in Engineering, and B.K. Sharma, senior research engineer. The team found a non-toxic solvent that can recover clean streams of polycarbonate, or PC, from the polycarbonate plastic.

A key aspect of the research is that it will provide a nontoxic solution for recycling e-material, Chandrasekaran said.

He said several groups have reported new solvents that can be used to dissolve polycarbonates.

“The important challenge is to find the solvent that is environmentally friendly and is also commercially available,” Chandrasekaran said. “When it is commercially available, it makes the whole process much easier and simpler.”

The PC resins are often known for their ability to insulate electrical components but have often been exported or sent to disposal after usage. The solvent, which is called N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, or NMP, will provide a much cleaner use for the PC.

The more environmentally friendly solvent does not need to be heated as much as other solvents, meaning it can dissolve polymers without fearing the solvent will vaporize and enter the atmosphere, Chandrasekaran said.

He said the next step in the process would be to get these recycled polymers through a practical manufacturing process to see their durability as a product.

Although their current process is limited to dissolving only certain polymers, Chandrasekaran said they are researching solvents that will be able to dissolve all polymers in any kind of mixture.

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