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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T020504/1
Title: Chemical recycling of electronic waste for sustainable livelihoods and material consumption in India
Principal Investigator: Love, Professor JB
Other Investigators:
Wilson, Dr S Vyas, Professor S Singh, Professor KK
Morrison, Professor C
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Aminco Resources, LLC. Incorporation of Goldsmiths
Department: Sch of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Scheme: GCRF (EPSRC)
Starts: 01 April 2020 Ends: 31 March 2022 Value (£): 398,820
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Chemical Synthetic Methodology Co-ordination Chemistry
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Creative Industries
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
10 Dec 2019 EPSRC Physical Sciences GCRF call 2019-20 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Currently, only 12% of precious metals from electronic waste (e-waste) is recycled, and in India, this figure is as low as 1.5%. India is the world's 5th largest e-waste generator, producing more than 2 million tonnes per year which is compounded by e-waste imports from other countries and leads to large waste dumps and informal scavenging. The jewellery sector accounts for 49% of the global use of precious metals which in India involves a large proportion of predominantly female rural artisans who are subject to exploitative middlemen and poor wages and conditions, despite maintaining their cultural heritage.

This programme develops new chemical methods for the recycling of e-waste in order to generate a new metal supply chain for rural artisanal jewellers in India and to create a formalised e-waste system. We are combining chemical and metallurgical research to design, develop, and exploit new chemical reagents and methods for the recycling of metals such as gold, copper, and the rare earth elements from e-waste. We are targeting these metals due to their prevalence in modern electronics (one tonne of mobile phones contains about 300 g of gold, compared with one tonne of gold ore that yields only 3-8 g), and their potential use in a new metal supply chain that connects chemical recyclers and the rural artisanal jewellery industry in India (gold and copper). These chemical methods can also be conducted on a local scale, are less damaging to the environment and can gain provenance from the Bureau of Indian Standards.

We aim to develop a deep understanding of the chemical principles that dictate the extent of metal separations and dissolution processes and use these principles to define and produce metal separations suitable for the complexity of e-waste. To do this we will exploit an array of complementary techniques to determine chemical structure, define extraction equilibria, and understand mode of action. The collaborations between chemists, metallurgical engineers, and industrialists will facilitate process discovery and implementation, with the development of a new and sustainable metal supply chain from e-waste potentially negating the informal e-waste recycling industry in India.

To complete the circularity of this research work, we will work with rural artisanal jewellers to determine their needs, deliver workshops to develop the techniques required to fabricate high-value jewellery from e-waste metals, and provide provenance for these materials through the creation of a chain of custody mark. Exhibition pieces will be generated and displayed in India and the UK to promote this work and highlight the advantages of this approach.

This programme of research brings together leading academic researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee in the UK, and Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad in India.

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