Recovery of Copper & Gold from Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment; Network Challenges in Advancing Energy Technology in the U.S.

Zheng, Jonathan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

This portfolio addresses issues in energy generation in the 21st century. The Capstone Project details the design and economics of a plant designed to recover precious metal from 181 kilotons of waste electronic & electrical equipment (WEEE). In this design, 181.5 kilotons of WEEE per year is combusted & gasified in a large molten salt reactor, evolving syngas – a gaseous fuel used in this process to supply heat to the reactor. The rest of the WEEE that is not burned is recovered, washed, and cooled down before undergoing a series of extracting steps to recover copper and gold. Using this design, a non-discounted cash flow of around $3.4 billion per year is achieved from utilizing this growing global waste stream. The STS research paper more directly investigates the systemic and sociological factors that influence energy policy from an actor-network theory (ANT) perspective. The main actors of the network under study include those directly involved with energy policy: lobbyists, energy companies, researchers, energy technology, energy consumers, and U.S. policymakers. This network is threatened by opposing views in addressing the United States’ massive energy needs while developing renewable and low carbon-emission energy technologies. In studying this network using ANT principles, this work seeks to investigate how a compromise can be reached to enact sensible energy policy.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
e-waste, electronic waste, metallurgy, energy policy, renewables, sustainability, actor-network theory

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Matthew Denecke, Rachel Ho, Caitlin Rudy

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