Pyrocycle: New Technology to Recycle E-waste for Precious Metals

In a sense we are just past the dawn of a new Gold Rush. There is (literally) gold in them thar hills of E-waste we produce, along with silver, platinum and palladium, but the technology currently used for recycling end-of-life electronic waste leaves a lot to be desired, and a lot to be discarded. The Pyrocycle project, helmed by Mohamed Khalil (PhD Candidate, Polytechnique Montreal – CEO and Co-founder Pyrocycle) aimed to develop a new cost-effective, environmentally friendly thermochemical process for recycling discarded electrical or electronic devices.

While preparing his PhD proposal Mohamed prepared a preliminary technical-economical analysis for a new process designed to recycle the E-waste that we all create in increasingly staggering amounts. The objective of the project was to more efficiently harvest the goods without all the bads; those being the dangerous toxic emissions, the wasteful loss of precious metals and the endless landfill that currently make the recovery process frequently unhealthy and often unprofitable.

With the preliminary analysis that revealed high profitability for the business and strong potential for future growth as a starting point, Mohamed applied for the Business Ideas Contest organized within the framework of the 24th annual symposium of the ACEE du Quebec (November 2016). He won the 2nd place and returned to Montréal with a grant of $1,000. One week later, he was a finalist in the Leverage Your Idea University Challenge organized by La Fondation Montréal inc..

Mohamed decided to move forward and look for mentorship, examine available resources and build his network in order to launch, fund and grow his startup. He joined the “Center of entrepreneurship (Poly-UdeM)” and teamed up with his PhD supervisor, Prof. Jamal Chaouki (A past Clean50 Honouree with Pyrowave, who brought his thirty-five years of experience as Professor to the table and who has also been the co-founder of three other Canadian companies,) and M. Sylvain Savard, (an investor, the President of Avianor which specializes in aircraft maintenance who has more than fifteen years of experience in business).

The project wasn’t without serious challenges. Due to the toxic brominated flame retardants they often contain, Halogenated plastics are particularly problematic to recycle. Moreover, treatment of brominated compounds in a temperature range between 300 and 500°C implicates the possible formation of brominated dibenzodioxins and furans. Based on their research, the Pyrocycle team avoided the carcinogen character of these materials and also the possibility of producing hazardous materials that might otherwise have made their recycling process a tough sell. They were even able to use this potentially hazardous waste to produce value-added products like: oil, gas and carbon black.

There are a great many benefits to decontaminating the plastics of e-waste which contain high levels of brominated flame retardants — the release of which cause environmental and human health concerns and also to recovering the precious metals contained within our E-waste. Projects like Pyrocycle create jobs in the fields of sorting, maintenance, chemistry, business, engineering and administration, all while reducing harmful environmental and health effects of the toxic emissions generated by burning the E-waste.

The United Nations estimated in 2006 that 50 million metric tons of E-waste were discarded annually, and that, for many of us was 3 cell-phones, a laptop and an E-reader ago. This is not sustainable. We all have a stake in this rush, but Pyrocycle has already staked an impressive claim.