Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.

The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/  and
http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.

Green Chemistry and Biomimicry: A More Sustainable Process for Metal Extraction

A team of chemists from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, have developed a way to process metals without toxic solvents and reagents. Their innovation could help reduce negative environmental impacts of metal extraction from raw materials and electronic scrap.

As reported by McGill, “The system, which also consumes far less energy than conventional techniques, could greatly shrink the environmental impact of producing metals from raw materials or from post-consumer electronics…In an article published recently in Science Advances, the researchers outline an approach that uses organic molecules, instead of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, to help purify germanium, a metal used widely in electronic devices. Laboratory experiments by the researchers have shown that the same technique can be used with other metals, including zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt.”

The development is an interesting example of biomimicry. Germanium is a semiconductor not found in substantial quantities in any one type of ore, so a series of processes are used to reduce mined materials with small quantities of the metal to a mixture of germanium and zinc. Isolation of germanium from the zinc in this resulting mixture involves what one of the researchers called “nasty processes.” For an alternative less dependent upon toxic materials and energy use, the researchers found inspiration in melanin, the pigment molecule present in skin, hair, and irises of humans and other animals. Besides contribution to coloration, melanin can bind to metals. The researchers synthesized a molecule that mimics some of melanin’s metal-binding qualities. Using it they were able to isolate germanium from zinc at room temperature, without solvents.

Image of a shiny, silver-grey metallic rock
Image of germanium by W. Oelen, CC BY 3.0

As the McGill article states, “The next step in developing the technology will be to show that it can be deployed economically on industrial scales, for a range of metals.”

Read the full story, published June 7, 2017 by the McGill Newsroom at https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/more-sustainable-way-refine-metals-268517.

See also “A chlorine-free protocol for processing germanium,” Martin Glavinović et al., Science Advances, 5 May 2017. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700149 http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/5/e1700149

To learn more about germanium and its applications (including fiber-optics, infrared optics, solar electric applications, and LEDs), see the Wikipedia article on germanium at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanium.

2017 iNEMI Roadmap Rollout Webinars

The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) regularly produces industry roadmaps. According to the iNEMI web site, “Each edition is a global collaborative effort that involves many individuals who are leading experts in their respective fields and represent many perspectives on the electronics manufacturing supply chain.  Our roadmap has become recognized as an important tool for defining the “state of the art” in the electronics industry as well as identifying emerging and disruptive technologies. It also includes keys to developing future iNEMI projects and setting industry R&D priorities over the next 10 years.”

The latest edition of the iNEMI roadmap will go on sale this month. In preparation, iNEMI is previewing highlights from select chapters in the following two webinars:

  • Asia (April 6): Internet of Things (IoT) and Packaging & Components Substrates chapters
  • North America/Europe (April 7): IoT and Sustainable Electronics chapters

For details including session overviews, times, and online registration, see the iNEMI web page for these rollout webinars.

The purpose of these webinars is to introduce the 2017 iNEMI Roadmap and identify key issues and needs, collect feedback during the Q & A session for ongoing gap analysis purposes, recruit participation in in the development of the iNEMI Technical Plan, and recruit participation in the next roadmap development cycle. (See http://community.inemi.org/content.asp?contentid=56 for information on the 2015 Technical Plan.)

iNEMI logo

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.

Reminder: Manuscripts for Special Edition of Challenges Due 12/31/15

challenges-logoManuscripts are still being accepted for the special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.” 

From the issue’s rationale:

“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.

While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.

It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at challenges@mdpi.com, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at http://www.mdpi.com/journal/challenges/special_issues/electronic-waste#info. The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015. Questions may be addressed to co-guest editor Joy Scrogum.

Smartphone Encore Challenge Winners Announced; UIUC Team Runners Up

In a previous post, I promoted a webinar hosted by Net Impact in which the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge would be announced, along with an overview of closed-loop strategies at Sprint. You can watch the archived webinar at https://netimpact.org/webinars/the-circular-economy-is-calling-closing-the-loop-in-the-smartphone-industry. (Note that the quality of the video for the winning concept was poor during the webinar; you can view the video separately at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjYyW4i7OS8.) The Challenge was sponsored by Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, and asked students to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams to register. Read more about the Challenge at https://netimpact.org/impact-programs/smartphone-encore-challenge.

SECwinners

I’m pleased that a concept submitted by UIUC students, NEO, was a runner up in the competition. NEO involves the reuse of smartphones as low-cost computers for teaching programming to kids, thus addressing e-waste, digital divide, and education issues simultaneously. This innovative idea was created by Elizabeth Reuter, Kevin Lehtiniitty, and Biplab Deka.

The students came up with this concept for their final project in ENG/TE 498 “Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations,” which I taught in collaboration with Dr. Brian Lilly and Kirsten Walker in spring 2014. For their final class project, students could either prepare a repair guide for iFixit.com, or create a mock entry for the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, a global student competition administered by SEI which ended in 2013.  The video below was prepared as part of that class project.

The winning concept from students at UC Berkeley, TouchCart, involves using old cellphones to make finding items easier in grocery stores while also allowing scanning of items during shopping. It also allows connection to customer service, and quick check out. The other runners up, StreetSmart from Ohio State University, involves used cellphones as in-car technology to help track driving habits. This would allow insurance companies to more easily reward safe drivers with lower rates. The winning team received $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. And they’ll also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen the team’s business model.

Despite not winning this particular competition, Team NEO is participating in other student competitions to raise funds to bring this worthy concept to reality. Join me in wishing them all the best in these pursuits, and congratulations for their achievements thus far.

 

Smartphone Encore Challenge Finalists to be Announced in Earth Day Webinar

smartphone-encore-challenge-logo-v02In a previous post, I wrote about a new electronics-related competition debuted this year: the Smartphone Encore Challenge. The Challenge is a collaboration of Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact in which student teams were challenged to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams or individuals to register.

The winning individual or team will receive $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. The winners will also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen their business model.

Tomorrow, April 22, 2015–Earth Day–Net Impact will present an “Issues in Depth” webinar, featuring the concepts of the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge and two runners-up. The webinar, entitled “The Circular Economy is Calling: Closing the Loop in the Smartphone Industry,” will also feature Darren Beck, Director of Environmental Initiatives at Sprint, who will share the successes and challenges of applying closed-loop strategies to Sprint’s business. The webinar begins at 11:00 CDT and you can register online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6002673046428866561.

I can’t wait to see what the winning students have come up with! For more inspiring sustainable electronics ideas from college and university students, visit the Sustainable Electronics Initiative YouTube channel, where you can find winning entry videos from past years of the SEI International Sustainable Electronics Competition.

Flame Retardants Continue to Ignite Controversy

Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards Partnership IconDuring Pollution Prevention Week back in September, I wrote a post for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) Blog on the environmental and human health impacts of flame retardants. In that post I talk about decisions by major health systems to stop purchasing furniture treated with flame retardants in response to the adverse effects associated with many of these chemicals, and describe the compounds as an illustration of the importance of employing source reduction and safer alternatives during product design and manufacture.

Recently, flame retardants have been in the news again in the last few months, as 16 companies and organizations signed the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) Purchaser’s Pledge, committing to specify and purchase furniture products that meet flammability standards without the use of chemical flame retardants.

Recent research has shown that Michigan’s bald eagles are among the most contaminated birds on the planet when it comes to phased-out flame retardant chemicals in their livers. Despite being phased-out, the flame retardants in question are persistent and bioaccumulative, meaning that top-predators like eagles continue to deal with exposures from the past.

Additionally, on December 15th, the US EPA Design for Environment Program announced an updated draft report of the DfE Partnership to Evaluate Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards.

From the DfE web site: “The purpose of this alternatives assessment is to provide objective information to help members of the electronics industry more efficiently factor human health and environmental considerations into decision-making when selecting flame retardants for PCB applications. This draft assessment provides updated human health and environmental information on flame retardant alternatives to tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA) for use in circuit boards. TBBPA is one of the most commonly used flame retardants for printed circuit boards in electronics. The report includes a description of differences in combustion by-products from burning printed circuit boards containing alternative flame retardants at temperatures simulating uncontrolled recycling or incineration. In parallel with this draft assessment, industry trade groups tested alternative non-halogenated flame retardants and found that they function equally as well or better than TBBPA-based circuit boards for certain products.”

This updated draft assessment is available for public review and comment until February 15, 2015.  There’s still time to provide your input. Please submit comments to Docket NO. EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0893 via www.regulations.gov.

For more information on the DfE draft assessment, see http://epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/pcb/, or contact Emma Lavoie.

Smartphone Encore Challenge Seeks Innovative Reuse Concepts

The International Sustainable Electronics Competition ended in 2013 after inspiring students around the world to consider ways to extend the useful life of electronic devices. Now SEI is happy to witness the launch of another sustainable electronics student competition–this one focused on the reuse of smartphones or smartphone components. smartphone-encore-challenge-logo-v02

Sprint, in collaboration with HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, have announced the Smartphone Encore Challenge.

From the competition web site: “Millions of smartphones get discarded each year as consumers upgrade to new models. The old phones get tucked away in drawers or thrown away, burdening landfills. According to the EPA, only about 10% of phones in the U.S. are reused or recycled. It’s such a waste – these devices are still wonders of technology, with an amazing capacity to capture, process, store, and transfer data. They’re often chock full of features, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, camera, and more. They’re also an untapped business opportunity…We want you to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. You get to put your creative and business skills to use addressing an important issue, and, if you win, you’ll get some support to put your idea in motion.”

Specifically, the winning team will receive $5000 which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend (powered by Google for Entrepreneurs)  to work on the development of their idea. Winners will also receive guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen their business model. “In addition, the winner and two runners up will be featured in a Net Impact ‘Issues in Depth’ webinar on Earth Day. They’ll also present their business ideas to sponsor executives through a videoconference, and will be highlighted in a national press release from Sprint.”

Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, if you’re interested, there are a couple of important points to note. First, participants need to be members of the Net Impact student community. Simple enough–it’s free to join. Next, be aware that students can choose to participate as individuals or as members of teams.

Most importantly, participation in the competition is limited to the first 25 registrants. Full details, including the registration form, are available on the competition web site.

Those lucky 25 will be shipped an entry kit containing:

  • Two (2) pre-owned Android smartphones for reference and prototyping — the devices will be fully activated with voice, text, and data for the length of the contest
  • List of device features/capabilities and guidance on disassembly/repair
  • List of estimated costs for the device as well as voice, text and data connectivity to help price your product
  • A consent form that all members of the team will need to sign and return
  • Pre-paid shipping label to return the devices at the end of the competition

Each team (or individual registrant) will develop a product concept and business pitch (and optionally a brief video). These ideas must be submitted by March 27, 2015, at 11:59 pm PT.

Expert judges will select one winner and two runners up, based upon criteria outlined on the competition web site.

So put your thinking caps on, students. Your solution might just become a reality.

How to Use the EPEAT Registry to Purchase Greener Electronics–Archived Webinar

In June 2014, the State Electronics Challenge hosted a partners-only webinar on how to use the EPEAT product registry. The recording of that webinar is now available to everyone online, and if you’re in any way involved with electronic equipment purchases for your organization (or just for yourself), I highly recommend checking it out at http://stateelectronicschallenge.net/Webinars/How-to-Navigate-the-EPEAT-Registry.wmv .

What’s EPEAT?

If you’ve never heard of it, EPEAT is the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool. It’s been around long enough that everyone simply refers to it by its acronym, which is less of a mouthful. Originally funded by the US EPA, EPEAT is a searchable database of electronics products in certain categories, which is administered currently by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT criteria are developed collaboratively by a range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, environmental groups, academia, trade associations, government agencies, and recycling entities. Criteria for current product categories are based upon the IEEE 1680 family of Environmental Assessment Standards (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known primarily by its acronym). The criteria include attributes from throughout the product life cycle–i.e. throughout the stages of design, manufacture, use, and disposal. The following attributes are listed as part of the “Criteria” section of the EPEAT website (where you can also find more specific information about criteria for each of the current product categories):

  • Reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials
  • Material selection
  • Design for end of life
  • Product longevity/life extension
  • Energy conservationEPEAT_logo
  • End-of-life management
  • Corporate performance
  • Packaging
  • Consumables (unique to Imaging Equipment standard)
  • Indoor Air Quality (unique to Imaging Equipment standard)

Manufacturers voluntarily choose to meet the EPEAT criteria with certain products and have those products appear on the EPEAT registry at the appropriate level–bronze, silver, or gold, depending on increasing percentages of optional criteria a product meets (all registered products meet certain required criteria). So, EPEAT is not a certification program; however, you can have faith in the validity of the EPEAT labels because manufacturer claims are verified by independent experts–see the “Verification” section of the EPEAT website for complete information. See profiles of EPEAT’s “Product Registration Entities” or “PREs” at http://www.epeat.net/participants/pres/; the list includes the likes of UL Environment. This is not greenwashing; if a product bears the EPEAT label, it has been very closely scrutinized by folks who are experienced at validating environmental claims.

The EPEAT registry currently includes desktops, laptops/notebooks, workstations, thin clients, displays (computer monitors), televisions, printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, fax machines, digital duplicators and mailing machines. New products may be added to the registry in the future as criteria are developed for them.

Go to http://www.epeat.net/participants/purchasers/, scroll down to “Purchaser Types,” and click on each of the different tabs to see a list of some of the organizations that already use EPEAT.

What’s the State Electronics Challenge?

SECThe State Electronics Challenge (SEC) is a free program for public entities (such as government agencies, schools, universities, libraries, etc.) that encourages and assists with purchasing greener electronic office equipment, reducing the impacts of computers and imaging equipment during use, and managing obsolete electronics in an environmentally responsible way. Participants are called “partners.” Partners receive resources (such as access to partner-only webinars as mentioned previously), technical assistance, the opportunity to receive recognition for their efforts, and sustainability reports for their organization, documenting their accomplishments and the resulting environmental benefits in terms of greenhouse gas reduction, reduction of toxic materials, energy saved, etc.  SEC is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC).

You can sign up to focus your activities around one or more of three life cycle phases–purchasing, use, and end-of-life management. Reports are submitted annually, but since everything is voluntary, you do whatever is manageable given your situation. If you complete all of the “required activities” in a life cycle, your organization can receive recognition (“required” is only for the sake of recognition) at the bronze, silver, or gold level, based on the number of life cycle phases addressed. Are you sensing a chromatic theme here? See the “Programmatic Requirements Checklist” for details.

Even if your organization is not a public entity eligible to become a SEC partner, I’d encourage you to use this checklist, and the resources available on the SEC web site, for guidance on greening your organization in terms of electronics office equipment consumption.

What am I watching again, and why do I care?

The link at the beginning of this post will take you to a recording of a webinar hosted by SEC, which you can watch in Windows Media Player or similar application. The recording is just under 50 minutes long. In it, Andrea Desimone of the Green Electronics Council leads you through the EPEAT search functions, from the basic search to more advanced options, including criteria-based searches, filtering results, exceptions, and comparing products. You’ll also learn tips and tricks to help you sift through the 3,000+ products registered with EPEAT.

As for why you should care–I could give you lectures on the multitude of environmental and social impacts of electronics that could convince you purchasing greener electronics is important. But for starters, focus on the fact that you could save money while being environmentally responsible, and that you could tell your organization’s clients and customers all about how you did it. And it could be pretty easy to accomplish with the help of resources like EPEAT and/or SEC. For some statistics, see http://www.epeat.net/about-epeat/environmental-benefits/ and http://www.stateelectronicschallenge.net/why_join.html and see if you don’t think learning about achieving those sorts of results is worth less than an hour of your time.