Innovation That Matters

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Clean e-waste recycling and mineral processing


The low-energy process recovers many different metals without using any toxic chemicals

Spotted: UN research predicts that global e-waste will increase continually, reaching 74 megatonnes annually by 2030. The authors of the report write that “This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fueled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair.”  

Rather than let so many valuable materials go to waste, UK tech company Descycle created a low-energy metal recycling and recovery process. The process could replace some of the dirtiest methods of chemical recycling with a low-energy, low-temperature method that is also non-toxic and often uses biodegradable compounds. 

Descycle’s recycling works by combining salt with a range of different organic chemical mixtures. When mixed together, the powders become liquid. Called deep eutectic solvents (DES), the proprietary compounds are customisable, allowing recycling centres to target specific metals for recovery.  

This type of chemical recycling does not require the extremely high temperatures that many of today’s processes need, meaning that Descycle’s technology helps reduce significantly the demand for energy and electricity. Using DES also reduces carbon emissions, and the compounds used in the mixtures are found naturally, meaning that many are ultimately biodegradable.  

With so many industries struggling to find low-carbon means of developing circularity in their value chains, Descycle’s solution has the potential to transform recycling processes of many different materials. The company is currently working to scale up from lab-sized outputs to commercial industrial plant capacity.  

As consumers themselves also push for more circularity in electronics supply chains, innovators are developing a range of solutions. Examples from Springwise’s archive include recyclable computer chip substrates and a re-commerce platform for mobile phones.  

Written By: Keely Khoury



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