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Reducing E-Waste At The Source

Dr. Michael Zhang (Finance, Information Systems, & Management Science) has been awarded an Early Stage Commercialization Fund award of $25,000 to further develop a software technology that will assist large scale electronics manufacturing companies to optimize their component-testing processes.

Typically, in electronic product manufacturing, testing of components purchased from suppliers, e.g. batteries or CPU chips, is done in bulk. As such, entire batches either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ a given test and usually an entire batch is thrown out if a single unit is found to be defective. This method is a consequence of expensive testing costs in combination with low per-unit component costs.  Unfortunately, serious environmental impacts have resulted from such practices. Compounding the problem is the fact that rapid changes in technology and media types, falling prices, and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the globe to the tune of 50 million tons of e-waste each year. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled. The rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators (” Environment Protection Agency estimates for 2006-7″).

Dr. Zhang and his colleague Dr. Jiejian Feng have developed an algorithm that provides a manufacturer with an optimal test plan to achieve lower expected costs and therefore less waste. The algorithm accounts for a wide range of factors such as cost to purchase, cost to test, number of components needed and the probability of finding good components. Proof of concept testing in Dr. Zhang’s lab has so far shown promising results for both reducing costs (between 2.9% and 26.9%) and decreasing environmental waste (between 8-15% in the number of abandoned electronic components).

Next steps are to build a user-friendly interface and seek potential industry partners who are interested in prototyping work.

For more information, please contact:

Gina Funicelli
Director, Industry Liaison Office
Tel: 902.491.6297
Cell: 902.240.3221