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E-waste, an urban mining for IMMT scientists

According to reports, discarded electronic goods may emerge as one of the biggest challenges to environment now. But scientists at Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT) here treat the e-waste as a resource.

IMMT scientists managed a breakthrough in extracting metals such as copper, silver, nickel, palladium and gold from the e-waste, which earned a patent on the innovation. The premiere laboratory of IMMT under the aegis of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has developed a thermal plasma process to treat the e-waste to recover the metal values as well as treat the associated toxic gases.

“Waste generated in huge volume in urban centres is like urban mining for us. If the waste is handled with care, it would offer a lot to the society. The process of extracting valuable metals from e-waste developed by our scientists has proved this,” said B. K. Mishra, Director of IMMT, addressing a press conference here on Friday.

Increased use of electronic equipment in recent times has compounded the problem of piling electronic waste (e-waste).

While about 20-50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year, only 10 per cent of this is being recycled. The IMMT process would not only extract metals from e-waste but also take care of the environmental contamination.

Much of the credit for innovation goes to P. S. Mukherjee, Chief Scientist of Advanced Material Technology Department of IMMT. The research started with a modest beginning. A Chennai-based private firm had provided a meagre amount of Rs. 6 lakh to carry out research.

“Many e-waste materials contain valuable metals like gold and silver. Our effort is to how to extract those materials. What developed countries do is to send all their electronic goods to a facility and get the metals back and then separate individual metals. Now what we are trying to do is to extract individual metals from e-waste,” said Dr. Mukherjee.

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