Discarded Electronics Could Be Next Medical Miracle

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New research suggests that a chemical compound found in LCD screens can be used as an anti-microbial sterilizing agent. Photo: Flickr/incurable_hippie

Researchers have discovered a way of taking a component of the fastest growing waste stream, e-waste, and transforming it into a beneficial medical use.

The University of York’s Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence presented findings from their research on June 23 suggesting the chemical compound polyvinyl-alcohol (PVA), a key element in televisions and computers with liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, can be used as an anti-microbial substance to combat bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli (E-coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (staff infection).

The liquid crystals contained in LCD screens are potentially hazardous, representing an increasingly hazardous material entering the waste stream as technology continues to advance and millions of LCDs are discarded each year.

European Union legislation prevents the disposal or incineration of electronic materials in landfills, and with little to no viable recovery techniques, it became clear to the researchers new solutions for LCDs were needed.

“The influence of LCDs on modern society is dramatic – it is estimated that 2.5 billion LCDs are approaching the end of their life, and they are the fastest growing waste in the European Union,” said Andrew Hunt of the York Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence.

“But we can add significant value [to] this waste. By heating then cooling the PVA and then dehydrating it with ethanol we can produce a high surface area mesoporous material that has great potential for use in biomedicine.”

The York research team had previously found a method of recovering PVA from television screens and transforming it into a substance for tissue scaffolds which aid in body part regeneration. Due to its compatibility with the human body, the PVA substance could also be used in pills and dressings designed to deliver drugs to targeted parts of the body.

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