Pyrolysis and Detoxification of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) for Feedstock Recycling

Sammanfattning: The trends in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) generation shows that their volume constantly increases, while the current waste management technologies have proven to be insufficient in order to meet the strict criteria and the new legislations of the European Union. Pyrolysis and thermal treatment in general could be a valuable solution for closing the loop of materials and could contribute to the energy demands of modern society.Pyrolysis as a process and combination of other pre-treatment techniques was investigated with a focus on energy production, metal separation and feedstock recycling. In this work, several fractions of real WEEE have been tested based on the process requirements and the focus of each individual study.Firstly, the investigation was focused on the primary products of the process, revealing most of the environmental pollutants as well as the valuable monomers that can enhance feedstock recycling. A correlation of the process’ final temperature with the evolution of the major products was performed. Moreover, a conceptual reaction mechanism of Bisphenol A decomposition was suggested based on the process products.Then, a reduction of the bromine content of the initial WEEE fraction was achieved by solvent extraction pre-treatment. Isopropanol and toluene were tested as solvents capable of removing one of the main flame retardants at WEEE fractions, Tetrabromobisphenol A. The results indicate that the reduction of bromine was successfully performed even at ~37%. This result was further confirmed by the reduction or total removal of brominated species in the pyrolysis products. The toluene seems to be a valuable option for the pre-treatment, since it can be provided by the pyrolysis process itself, making the entire treatment more sustainable and in accordance with the concept of circular economy.Density separators used in the sorting of WEEE materials usually produced high moisture content fractions. As soon as those fractions follow thermal treatment, the moisture will eventually become steam, which influences the process. Therefore, WEEE materials were pyrolysed in nitrogen and steam atmospheres and their decomposition was evaluated. Steam had a negative impact on the products, since several high molecular weight products were detected, revealing that steam limits secondary cracking reactions. Additionally, the results show that the presence of steam complicates the separation of oils and favours the migration of antimony to the gas phase. Therefore, a drying step before using pyrolysis for this fraction is necessary.Low temperature pyrolysis was also investigated for making the WEEE more fragile to enhance metal separation from the carbonised solid residue while the fate of bromine was also monitored. The results indicate that the separation is possible at low temperatures for minimising the energy consumption of the process but it should be at least 40 ° higher than the onset temperature of the selected material. The separation was also evaluated with fractionation of the solid residue, revealing that the produced bromine-free solid carbonised material can be further utilised for energy production.Finally, the entire process was tested in a continuous screw reactor for overall process evaluation. The results indicate that the liquid products of pyrolysis can be used for feedstock recycling, producing necessary organic compounds that can be used for manufacturing new plastics or can be used as liquid fuel. The brominated compounds tend to migrate to the gas phase, as the temperature of the process increases, making the recycling of metals from the solid residue easier. The process in general can be self-sustained since the energy needed for the system to heat up can be covered from its gas production.