Recycled electronic hardware such as ink cartridges and parts from old fax machines is being turned into a new product touted as a plastic lumber replacement for concrete and steel in a range of farm products, including fences, in Australia.
Called eWoodTM, it is made from a process that enables a large mix of plastics, including the mixed and heavily contaminated plastics present in used electronic equipment, to be recycled en masse.
A Safe & Useful Way To Get Rid Of Hazardous Wastes
The key to the process is machinery that safely heats and mixes dozens of different types of plastics contaminated by up to 80 types of potentially toxic flame retardants.
Flexible eWood makes circular pens for things like sheep chutes and herding dog training pens.
When it was entered in the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s New Inventors television show it was picked as the weekly winner by both a panel of experts and the TV audience.
It is the invention of Melbourne polymer technologist John Schiers and electronics recycling operator Steve Morris, chief executive of Close the Loop Ltd., a company he formed in 2000 in Somerton, Victoria, to manufacture and market the product.
“We see it as having many applications, perhaps even replacing concrete or steel,” he said. “It’s being used in place of concrete in retaining walls, as uprights; as load-bearing walls!”
Best Suited Where Manure Rots Wood Or Rusts Metal
Morris said eWoodTM costs about the same as hardwood at around A$8 per meter of 19cm by 2.2cm (about US$10.00 per yard of nominal 1″ by 8″) slats of the product.
“It could be used in sheep yards and especially in pig yards or anywhere where there’s a lot of water because it will never rot,” he said. “It can come into contact with water and chemicals all the time and it won’t rot.”
It would also be suitable for farmers seeking a white (fire) ant and termite-resistant product, he said.
“If someone was putting up a decent-sized fence, you’d go for star pickets and wire but if you’re thinking about a smaller area, then eWoodTM might be feasible.”
Created Out Of Necessity, eWoodTM May Soon Come To U.S.
A new manufacturing plant due to open in January will boost production five-fold.
The company is actively looking at opportunities to license the technology in other countries to create a global solution for the problem of mixed plastics from electronics scrap recycling.
“We would also strongly consider exporting the end product, however our focus is currently on capitalizing on local sales opportunities,” a spokesman said.
Morris said eWoodTM was created out of necessity. He owned a toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturing company and boosted his business by contacting schools, government departments and universities offering to collect their cartridges on the condition they agreed to buy his cartridges.
This created a problem for Morris-what to do with the growing stockpile of cartridges and other units he was collecting.
The cartridges are a complex assembly of mixed plastic, metal, toner powder, ink, foam, rubber and precious metals.
What’s new with the Close the Loop operation is the last part of an industry standard process. It involves an extruder, a machine that allows a large number of mixed contaminated plastics to be heated and mixed together.
How The Recycling Is Done
First, waste such as phones, photocopiers, printers, faxes and scanners are put into a shredder. The ink or toner cartridges are removed prior to shredding, and put through their own process to remove the ink and toner powder-a polymer/carbon black mixture-for their own melting mixing process.
The shredded bits and pieces go into a machine that removes the aluminum, and magnetic metal such as iron, steel. The remaining plastic bits and any metal that still remains go into tanks full of water and salt. Their buoyancy makes the lighter chopped up plastics float, and some of the remaining metals (and heavier plastics that contain bromine) sink.
eWood attaches to common fence posts, using ordinary screws or nails.
The lighter plastics are removed from the heavier plastics and ground to around a 5mm sized (1/5-inch) granule, which allows them to be extruded. The black from the toner and ink cartridges is then added to the main plastic mix as it heads into the main extruder to act like a binding agent, helping the other plastics to stay together.
The toner and ink has inherent properties that also give the eWoodTM end product its UV sunlight protection and its black appearance.
The ground up plastic granules, including the toner/ink mix, are poured into an extruder, where they are melted and the flame retardant gases are removed. The molten plastic mix moves towards the exit mouth at the end of the extruder barrel; when it reaches the mouth it is pushed through a die, emerging as a continuous board.
This is eWoodTM, which is black, weatherproof and tough.
Splinter-Free, Long-Lasting Boards For Sheep Pens
Morris said that as with other plastic woods, it can be used as a direct replacement for wood in such applications as fencing rails, outdoor furniture, garden edging, retaining walls, sound attenuation barriers and siding. It is not being advocated for structural use in buildings.
It has almost the same characteristics as natural hardwood in terms of look and feel, as well as density and structure, and can be worked, shaped and handcrafted like timber using woodworking tools.
In comparison to commercial hardwoods and other plastic alternatives to timber, eWoodTM has the advantages in terms of durability and versatility.
It is non-porous due to its homogenous mix and is resistant to bacterial growth and insect attack. These features have led to eWoodTM‘s selection for use in park benches in Australia’s Kakadu National Park.
Morris said he sees a bright future for eWoodTM.
“The unique properties of the new product make it an ideal material in many applications,” he said. “In outdoor environments the product will considerably outperform natural wood. It is virtually unaffected by UV and is impervious to insect attacks-a necessity in this country where termites in particular cause so much damage to outdoor items.”