The federal government will invest up to $70 million in a new research institute focused on reducing recycling costs and boosting recycled content in manufacturing. E-scrap is one focus of the initiative.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the creation of the Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute, which will be headquartered in Rochester, N.Y. Its goal will be to develop technologies to reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing by improving recycling, remanufacturing and reuse.

REMADE will take up to $70 million in federal funding over five years and match it with private funds to support research into the recycling of metals, fibers, polymers and scrap electronics. The federal money is still subject to Congress and the president approving the funds in a budget.

Consortium members

Some major e-scrap companies, electronics manufacturers and industry groups are members of the consortium selected by the Department of Energy to run the institute. Among the many members are Dell, GEEP, Sims Metal Management and Umicore. The Green Electronics Council and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries are among the affiliate members.

In addition, the consortium includes national laboratories have have researched recycling technologies targeting difficult-to-recover elements in electronics.

In all, the consortium includes more than 100 organizations. That group, called the Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance, is led by the Rochester Institute of Technology, according to a Rochester Institute of Technology press release.

REMADE will have five different technology nodes, or areas of particular focus. Those include systems analysis and integration, design for reuse/disassembly, manufacturing material optimization, remanufacturing and reuse, and recycling and recovery.

Boosting competitiveness of recycled materials

A press release announcing the creation of the institute notes the energy intensity of extracting raw materials for manufacturing and says recycling and remanufacturing, defined as the rebuilding of products using reused or recycled parts, can reduce energy consumption.

A primary goal of the institute will be to develop technologies that allow recycled feedstock to be cheaper for use than virgin materials, the document states. To help do that, research will explore technologies to identify desired recycled materials, gather them, sort them and remove contaminants. The technologies won’t be specific to any one material or sector.

Unlocking the embedded energy in products, particularly electronics, can be difficult given their increasing complexity and varied mix of materials, according to a project overview document. Smartphones, for example, currently use upwards of 60 elements from the periodic table.

“For e-waste, the existing recycling technologies cannot cost-effectively process non-homogenous scrap with minor amounts of different elements and substances,” according to the document.