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January 18, 2016 10:56 AM

Students design solution for electronic waste recycling

An applied research project has moved from a Conestoga lab to the production line at a local business thanks to the work completed by Mechanical Systems Engineering students Ryan McKenzie and Royce Vuong.

Under the direction of faculty member Dr. Hamid Karbasi, the students designed a colour sorter to process electronic waste for Cambridge-based recycler Greentec. The sorter was installed in Greentec’s plant recently and has been such a success the company is now considering options for commercialization of the technology.

Electronic Waste Recycling.JPG
Mechanical Systems Engineering students Ryan McKenzie and Royce Vuong worked with Dr. Hamid Karbasi to design a colour sorter to process electronic waste for Cambridge-based recycler Greentec. Their work marks the first time an applied research project has moved from the lab into an industrial setting.

“The sorter is the result of a long period of research and development,” said Karbasi. “We started looking at the technology in 2011 and developed proof concepts and working prototypes. In 2015, Ryan and Royce designed and developed an industrial version for Greentec as part of their co-op placements. Their work provides an effective and affordable solution to improve Greentec’s productivity.”

The goal of a recycler like Greentec is to process waste at a high rate of speed and to produce high purity material that can be reprocessed to make new products. The students’ work replaces Greentec’s existing system for sorting electronic waste, which produces a 60 per cent purity rate. Conestoga’s solution returns a 98 per cent purity rate and can process 4,000 pounds of material per hour. A higher purity rate, processed at a high speed, means a better financial return for Greentec and less waste going to landfills.

“Ryan and Royce were second-year students when they started work on the project,” said Karbasi. “Their success demonstrates that our program is effective and that our projects are practical. These students are providing real-world solutions on budget and on time.”

McKenzie, who completed the electrical design and programming for the project, said getting the purity rate as high as they did served as one of the greatest challenges of the project: “ A lot of hours went into developing the system and I had a great feeling of satisfaction when we measured the purity. I’m happy that we can make an environmental impact.”

According to StEP - an organization headed by the UN - the amount of e-waste produced worldwide will climb to 67.5 million tonnes by 2017. The U.S. Environmental Protection agency estimates only 20 to 25 per cent of e-waste is recycled; the rest is directed to landfills.

Vuong worked on the mechanical design and was also pleased with the results. He said there was a real sense of accomplishment once the sorter was installed and running successfully. In addition to the environmental impact, he said the work will also make an industrial impact.

The sorter was installed at Greentec in November 2015 and ran multiple shifts with no major downtime. “We’re making an impact on local industry,” said Karbasi. “I believe our applied research efforts have reached a new record now that there’s a good chance the technology may be commercialized.”

Conestoga’s Bachelor of Engineering - Mechanical Systems Engineering program is accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. It is geared to careers in the areas of mechanical design, robotics and advanced manufacturing. The program is delivered using project-based curriculum and increasingly complex real-world projects.

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