College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Researching the recovery of e-waste metals

Thomas Ward, CoMFRE affiliate and associate professor of aerospace engineering, has received funding of $400,000 from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop robust methods to recycle E-waste at the point of disposal (RPOD).

The project is currently in phase one in collaboration with materials science and engineering associate professor Martin Thuo.

“The recovery of metals from electronics, or E-Waste, is essential to maintain production of current and future consumer electronics since most electronic devices are built using materials that are not available in large quantity,” Ward said. “Many electronic consumer products are built using both rare and precious metals. So, there is a need to recover these metals without smelting (separation through melting, which requires high temperatures), which is costly.”

Ward says his interest in this research began with his background in fluid mechanics and the challenge of applying his knowledge to a real-world problem. There is a substantial amount of fundamental fluid mechanics that is required to recover and recycle metal.

“One component of the project involves fundamental studies of multi-phase flows to de-mix alloys through enhanced multi-phase mixing,” Ward said. “While this sounds counter-intuitive (mixing to de-mix) the extraction of certain high-value metals by energy-efficient means requires one to take advantage of multi-component phases.”