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Assessment and Exploitation of the Inherent Value of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) for Circular Economy / Rhys G. Charles

Swansea University Author: Charles, Rhys G.

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DOI (Published version): 10.23889/SUthesis.39601

Abstract

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) represents a global environmental and resource-efficiency crisis. However, WEEE is a valuable urban mine of economically, strategically and environmentally important materials e.g. precious metals (PMs) and critical raw materials (CRMs). Economic valu...

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Published: 2018
Institution: Swansea University
Degree level: Doctoral
Degree name: EngD
Supervisor: Douglas, P. and Liversage, G.
Sponsors / Funders: Metech Recycling (UK) Ltd, European Social Fund (ESF), EPSRC
Grant number: EP/K503228/1
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa39601
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Abstract: Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) represents a global environmental and resource-efficiency crisis. However, WEEE is a valuable urban mine of economically, strategically and environmentally important materials e.g. precious metals (PMs) and critical raw materials (CRMs). Economic value derived from WEEE can drive solutions to the ‘WEEE problem’ which are conducive to circular economy, enhance global resource-efficiency, and generate environmental and social benefits. This thesis examines the value of WEEE, and methods for its exploitation to the benefit of global sustainability. The ‘WEEE problem’ is examined in the context of global sustainability, considering environmental & resource-efficiency implications and linear resources use by the electrical & electronic equipment (EEE) industry. Solutions are considered which exploit WEEE as an ‘urban mine’ and embrace circular economy.Within this context, recycling potential of future WEEE is evaluated through projections of PM & Cu content of PCBs, based on temporal trends in historic RAM modules. CRMs are then identified in WEEE and methods of enhancing their recovery through intervention in pre-processing stages of recycling are evaluated. An industrial symbiosis process which recovers Pt from waste thermocouples for use in solar cells is presented as an example of the greater value generation potential offered by circular economy and the potential of such processes to overcome barriers to CRM recovery. Challenges and opportunities in lifecycle optimisation of printable photovoltaics for circular economy is considered as a means of enhancing the industrial ecology of this industry to avoid WEEE generation, reduce primary materials demand and enhance the value derived from these technologies at all stages of their lifecycles. Appropriate battery selection for solar off-grid systems in South Africa is then considered, demonstrating that greater value can be derived from EEE for local economies if compatibility of technologies with local skills and infrastructure for in-use and EoL management.
Item Description: A selection of third party content is redacted or is partially redacted from this thesis.
Keywords: WEEE, e-waste, recycling, circular economy, precious metals, critical raw materials (CRMs), lifecycle optimisation, industrial symbiosis
College: College of Engineering