Sustainable Electronics Initiative

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The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, using, and managing electronic devices.

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NASA Invests in Innovative Concepts, Including Electronic-recycling Microbes

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced that 13 proposals had been selected for funding as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which “invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.” According to the press release, “NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.” Read the full press release on the NASA web site.

Among the funded proposals is a concept entitled Urban bio-mining meets printable electronics: end-to-end at destination biological recycling and reprinting,” submitted by Lynn Rothschild, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The project description states:

“Space missions rely utterly on metallic components, from the spacecraft to electronics. Yet, metals add mass, and electronics have the additional problem of a limited lifespan. Thus, current mission architectures must compensate for replacement. In space, spent electronics are discarded; on earth, there is some recycling but current processes are toxic and environmentally hazardous. Imagine instead an end-to-end recycling of spent electronics at low mass, low cost, room temperature, and in a non-toxic manner. Here, we propose a solution that will not only enhance mission success by decreasing upmass and providing a fresh supply of electronics, but in addition has immediate applications to a serious environmental issue on the Earth. Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called ‘urban biomining’ using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity. To create new electronics, the microbes will be used as ‘bioink’ to print a new IC chip, using plasma jet electronics printing. The plasma jet electronics printing technology will have the potential to use martian atmospheric gas to print and to tailor the electronic and chemical properties of the materials. Our preliminary results have suggested that this process also serves as a purification step to enhance the proportion of metals in the ‘bioink’. The presence of electric field and plasma can ensure printing in microgravity environment while also providing material morphology and electronic structure tunabiity and thus optimization. Here we propose to increase the TRL level of the concept by engineering microbes to dissolve the siliceous matrix in the IC, extract copper from a mixture of metals, and use the microbes as feedstock to print interconnects using mars gas simulant. To assess the ability of this concept to influence mission architecture, we will do an analysis of the infrastructure required to execute this concept on Mars, and additional opportunities it could offer mission design from the biological and printing technologies. In addition, we will do an analysis of the impact of this technology for terrestrial applications addressing in particular environmental concerns and availability of metals.”

Note that “TRL” refers to “Technology Readiness Level,” a measure of the technological maturity of a concept, indicative of the degree to which it has developed beyond the initial faults and unforeseen problems that inevitably arise when something theoretical is brought into practice. NASA TRL definitions help characterize whether a concept is ready for use in space flight during missions or has been “flight proven” as part of successful missions.

Printable Electronics

Graphic depiction of printable electronics, from concept description on NASA web site.

Though the idea is geared toward making missions to Mars more practical in terms of the weight of materials needed to pack for missions and dealing with the lack of a local repair shop in the event of a device breakdown, the concept–if successful–could have obvious positive impacts on sustainable electronic product design and responsible management of the ever-growing stream of discarded electronics here on Earth. This could end up becoming one more example of how technology developed to enable space exploration could have benefits to humans in their everyday terrestrial lives. NASA has published an annual accounting of such technologies called “Spinoff” since 1976.

For more information on the NIAC program, visit https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/index.html. For more information on technological “spinoffs”  from space exploration which improve life on Earth, see the press release for the 2016 edition of Spinoff, and the official NASA Spinoff web site.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) as a 2016 Gold Winner

ISTC Logo[Champaign, Illinois April 4, 2016]The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) today received a Gold award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge; a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 220,000 employees in 47 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green procurement, energy and paper conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2015.

“ISTC’s program is a truly outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, State Electronics Challenge Program Manager. “This is the second year in a row that the program has earned a Gold Award.” She added that “ISTC is one of only 12 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”

“We’re really pleased to have received recognition again. Participating in the State Electronics Challenge has provided a great framework for our organization to ensure that we’re making better choices in purchasing as well as continuing efforts to limit impacts in the use and end-of-life management phases,” said Joy Scrogum, Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist and coordinator of ISTC’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).

As a result of these environmental initiatives, in 2015 ISTC saved enough energy to power 6 households per year, avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 8 cars from the road per year, as well as avoiding the generation of more than 50 pounds of hazardous waste – equivalent to the weight of a refrigerator.

ISTC has committed to purchasing computer and imaging equipment that is qualified by the Electronic Procurement Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT®) standard.  EPEAT is an internationally recognized system that identifies office equipment that meets specified environmental performance criteria.  It also uses power management and requires double-sided printing to decrease energy and paper usage, and ensures that at the end-of-life, equipment is recycled by a third-party certified electronics recycler – Secure Recycling Services & Secure Processors.

“ISTC was the first Illinois organization to participate in the State Electronics Challenge, joining back in 2011. We only began applying for recognition in recent years, after we took the time to write a specific policy that captured what we were already doing to make our electronics-related operations more sustainable, as well as setting forth purchasing standards. The written policy will help us stay on target and continuously improve in the coming years, through revisions as our goals change. ISTC provides technical assistance to organizations and businesses throughout the state, and we’ve been able to point clients and other University of Illinois departments to the SEC checklist and resources as a way of helping them tackle sustainable electronics issues in simple, manageable ways,” Ms. Scrogum stated.

The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2015, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible recycling resulted in a total of more than 1,250 tons of electronics being recycled, which, along with power management and green procurement:

  • Prevented the release of almost 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 8,612 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply 7,845 homes per year
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 2,120 refrigerators
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by 388 households/year.

A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (www.stateelectronicschallenge.net).

“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as the one developed and implement by the ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.“

The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung, Panasonic, and the R2/RIOS Program.

About ISTC

ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Its mission is to encourage and assist citizens, businesses, and government agencies to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste to protect human health and the environment of Illinois and beyond. It promotes more sustainable technologies, processes, and practices through an integrated program of research, demonstration projects, technical assistance, and outreach. Learn more at www.istc.illinois.edu.

About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 157 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 212,600 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.

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