Did you ever feel that some technologies get Web treatment like they were the greatest thing since sliced bread and then you never hear about them again?
I had that sensation with a concept variously called “destructive disassembly”, “dematerialization” or “active disassembly.”
Treehugger.com and other Web sites gave it the real star treatment in 2006 when relaying a report from the Nokia Research Center of a prototype of a mobile phone that could be quickly and inexpensively disassembled with the application of heat. The key is a fastener made of a shape memory polymer that breaks down when exposed to laser heat, allowing rapid separation of the battery, display, printed wiring board (PWB) and mechanical parts. The idea is that those parts can be recycled rather than shredded and sent to a landfill.
Many, but not all, of the concepts for active disassembly comes from a PhD named Joseph Chiodo, who began investigating the technology in 1991, and in the past 11 or so years has had considerable success winning technology bids in Europe to test out the ideas.
Last year’s Chiodo’s group finished a UK-funded project called ReFLATED. Chiodo tells Design News: “We investigated the recycling of LCDs and their constituent components right down to clean segregation of liquid crystal. I’ve invented a group of Active Disassembly technology applications for LCD automated disassembly and clean segregation access.”
You can see a video of how a snap-fit fastener made of shape memory polymer for LCDs works at this url. Videos show several other active disassembly concepts as well. Shape memory polymers return from a temporary shape to their original shape when exposed to temperature change or some other stimulus.
“We are a very small company working from a few to over half a dozen at any given time,” adds Chiodo. “On occasion there are a few more of us but it is dependent on the project tasks that we are conducting at the time. With the economy being rather sluggish since 2008, things have started to get slow this year despite the international drive for eco-design.”
In fact, the whole drive to recycle electrical and electronic waste in Europe ran into an economic buzz saw in the last three years.
That’s one reason you don’t hear much about this intriguing technology any more. Another is that Dr. Chiodo (he goes by Joe actually) is clamming up about many of the details of what he is working on.
“We’ve been far more open in the past and found that the IPR agreements are not respected so we disclose only what does not jeopardize our position,” he says. “We’re simply not big enough to ensure numerous patents to protect our inventions against numerous copies we’ve have had to contend with.”
So this new technology is out there–and available. And just maybe it is better than sliced bread.
But it obviously costs more than just shredding electronic waste and dumping it somewhere.
Is there a will to solve this problem?