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Romanian and Turkish scientists turn circuit boards into oil

Biomess goes biomass

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Whether through a force of expanding environmental activism or just compliance with government edicts, the IT sector is in a pinch over how to safely recycle defunct computers and equipment.

Unfortunately, IT kit is packed with enough environmental hazards to put the Toxic Avenger's codpiece to shame. And with each generation of electrical merchandise released, dealing with the jettisoned remains of yesterday's gear turns into a bigger problem.

But a team of scientists from Romania and Turkey say they've found a simple and effective method to turn printed circuit boards from discarded IT kit into material suitable as fuel or for industrial use.

The researchers note that the plastic portion of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is particularly tricky to recycle because it contains additives, heavy metals, and extremely toxic flame retardants. (You don't want too much polybrominated diphenyl ethers in your diet if you cherish your liver and brain.)

In their paper "Feedstock Recycling from the Printed Circuit Boards of Used Computers," the scientists describe using a process of heat and chemical decomposition to destroy or remove almost all of the hazardous toxic compounds. A copy of the paper can be found here. (PDF warning.)

The process isn't exactly light reading — but when it's done, what's left of the printed circuit board is pyrolysis oil (or bio-oil), which can be refined in a similar fashion as crude petroleum for fuel or can be used by industries to make other useful chemicals.

Indeed now more than ever, is there anything adding more RAM can't do? ®

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