Polytechnique Montreal launches UNESCO chair in green and sustainable electronics

Polytechnique Montreal launches UNESCO chair in green and sustainable electronics

Polytechnique Montréal will host the activities of the UNESCO Chair in Green and Sustainable Electronics (ÉleVéS), which involves partners from three continents. This Chair will be looking at solutions to improve the life cycle of the electronic devices that make up our appliances and thus reduce the impact of electronic waste.

Ghana, an African country on the Gulf of Guinea, imports hundreds of thousands of tonnes of electronic waste every year.

The Basel Convention prohibits the export of waste containing toxic products, but old fridges, slightly outdated computers and a host of other electronic waste from North America and Europe find their way, through informal channels, to Asian and African countries like Ghana.

Some of these countries have few or no facilities for treating this waste, so old refrigerators and other refuse end up contaminating the soil, water and air, and posing a threat to biodiversity.

The UNESCO Chair based in Montreal will seek solutions to these problems, in particular by building capacity to extend the life cycle of electronic devices and by developing new materials, derived from biomass, to design electronic devices.

CAPACITY BUILDING

Clara Santato is the holder of the new UNESCO Chair. Her team, made up of researchers from Europe, Africa and the USA, will be working in particular with the communities that have to take responsibility for managing electronic waste from the west, so that these devices can be dealt with more effectively on their territory.

“How do we collect this electronic waste, how do we separate it, how can we give it a second life? And how, for example, can this waste be useful in other areas such as green energy or green technologies,” said Santato.

NEW MATERIALS FOR BIOMASS

The UNESCO Chair in Green and Sustainable Electronics will also study the design of electronic devices with a small environmental footprint, using waste from the forestry and food industries, for example.

“We are currently studying these natural materials for their electrochemical or electrical responses, so for batteries, for example. In the case where we are studying the electrical response, it is to explore whether there are any semi-conducting properties,” said Santato.

Improving the environmental impact of urban mining processes and designing supercapacitors from used lithium batteries are also part of the chair’s projects.

According to a news release issued by Polytechnique Montréal, the chair “will target all links in the life cycle chain of electronic devices, adopting a holistic approach that integrates science, technological innovation, social innovation and education in order to transform the production, consumption and management of electronic devices in line with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals.”

The Director of Research and Innovation at Polytechnique Montreal said he was extremely proud to host the UNESCO Chair in Green and Sustainable Electronics.

“This kind of initiative is entirely in line with the mission that Polytechnique Montreal has set itself of proposing innovative solutions to society that respects environmental, social and governance criteria,” said François Bertrand.

Humans generated 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019, the equivalent in weight of 350 cruise ships, according to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership.

Only 18 per cent of this waste was processed in facilities designed for recycling or reuse of materials, and the vast majority of discarded devices ended up contaminating the environment.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 19, 2023.

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