A Spanish researcher has developed a process for extraction of hydrogen from discarded electronic boards.
The process known as gasification relies on steam to break down plastic components in electronics using metals present in them as catalysts. As a by-product, hydrogen is released that can be used as fuel.
The method was developed by Andoni Salbidegoitia from the University of the Basque Country during a research stay at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and a patent has been registered in Japan.
"The gasification of plastic waste has already been deployed on an industrial level in Japan", explained Salbidegoitia. "To be able to use it here, apart from the economic investment, one would have to look at how and where the fuel product obtained could be used."
In addition to providing a readily available source of hydrogen, the method also tackles the growing e-waste problem. With people using more and more electronic gadgets, including computers, tablets and smartphones, and with the lifespan of those being driven by commercial pressures, the world is left with a growing amount of plastic waste, which frequently contains toxic components.
Although the industry has been aware of the fact that plastic waste from electronics contains large quantities of rare metals, no industrial method capable of extracting those materials for reuse has so far been fully developed.
According to Salbidegoitia, petroleum-based plastic waste is also a convenient source of energy. In his work, he has focused on developing methods for treating the most complex types of rare metal rich electronic components that no other cost-effective method can efficiently separate.