Circuit Board Component Recovery for Electronic Waste Reduction

EPA Contract Number: EPD15021
Title: Circuit Board Component Recovery for Electronic Waste Reduction
Investigators: Tietjen, Byron W
Small Business: Advanced Recovery and Recycling LLC
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016
Project Amount: $96,360
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Air and Climate


Electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America. Significant amounts of e-waste are actually not waste, but rather components recoverable for reuse, resale or recycled for their precious metals. In 2010, 3,320,000 tons of e-waste were generated (per “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States; Tables and Figures for 2012,” by U.S. EPA, Feb. 2014) with only 19.6 percent recycled that year, for a total of 2,670,000 tons trashed. A significant deterrent to recycling e-waste is the pollution from the burning/smelting precious metals extraction approach or the high expense chemical based precious metals extraction method.
With regard to removing integrated circuits (ICs) and other components from printed circuit boards (PCBs), there is a need for a pre-refining approach and a reuse approach.
The goal of the pre-refining approach is to very rapidly and automatically remove ICs and other electrical circuit components from the PCBs so that only the components are refined for precious metals recovery, which reduces the weight processed. This also reduces pollution. This is a high volume mode where the functional integrity of the electrical components is not an issue.
The goal of the reuse component survival approach is to carefully but still automatically remove ICs to allow reuse of the ICs and components.
Advanced Recovery and Recycling’s (ARR) has a circuit board depopulator that addresses both approaches via two different modes.  Each mode is a low cost, environmentally friendly process that uses no burning, smelting or chemicals. The prototype is shown in Figure 1 and is covered by U.S. Patent #7,703,197 B2).
Figure 1—ARR’s Patented Circuit Board Depopulator
The design, building and testing of the Depopulator system took place over a 4-year period. ARR uses its proof-of-concept prototype to study and characterize its ability to remove components from various types of circuit boards. The Depopulator consists of a conveyor belt upon which the circuit boards travel. The Depopulator applies infrared radiation of an optimized wavelength to melt the PCB solder, followed by shaking/vibration of the PCBs to remove integrated circuits and other parts from the board.
Pre-refining removal of the integrated circuits and components reduces refining weight by a factor of 7. Refining costs are a linear function of weight, hence they are reduced by a factor of 7. Burning and smelting pollution is also reduced by a factor of 7.
The reuse mode removes the integrated circuits quickly from a PCB while leaving their functionality intact. This replaces the present manual mode which applies hot air to each IC separately. The depopulator increases speed and thus reduces labor and cost by automating this process. This mode helps to address the long term, microelectronics, Obsolescence and Maintainability problem, namely provide high value, obsolete parts to industrial and/or government programs.
This SBIR is an R&D design effort to upgrade the prototype depopulator to a production version for both the pre-refining mode and the reuse removal mode.

Supplemental Keywords:

e-waste, recycling, precious metals, circuit boards, refining, reuse, burning/smelting elimination, chemical elimination, air quality, industrial process pollution reductions

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Circuit board Component Recovery for Electronic Waste Reduction