Material Characterization and Physical Processing of a General Type of Waste Printed Circuit Boards

Peijia Lin, Joshua Werner, Jack Groppo, Xinbo Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Due to the rapid development of electronic devices and their shortened lifespans, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), or E-waste, is regarded as one of the most fast-growing wastes. Among the categories of E-waste, waste printed circuit boards (WPCBs) are considered the most complex waste materials, owing to their various constitutes, such as plastics, capacitors, wiring, and metal plating. To date, a variety of processing technologies have been developed and studied. However, due to the heterogeneous nature of WPCBs, a thorough study on both material characterization and physical separation was needed to provide a better understanding in material handling, as well as to prepare a suitable feedstock prior to the downstream chemical process. In the present study, integrated size and density separations were performed to understand the liberation of contained metals, particularly Cu and Au, from the plastic substrates. The separation performance was evaluated by the elemental concentration, distribution, and enrichment ratio of valuable metals in different size and density fractions. Further, SEM-EDS on the density separation products was carried out to characterize the surface morphology, elemental mapping, and quantified elemental contents. Moreover, thermo-gravimetric properties of waste PCBs were investigated by TGA, in order to understand the effect of temperature on volatile and combustible fractions during the thermal processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13479
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. PFI 2044719. Further support was provided by the University of Kentucky and the University of Kentucky Department of Mining Engineering.

Funding Information:
Access to characterization instruments and staff assistance was provided by the Electron Microscopy Center at the University of Kentucky, member of the KY INBRE (Kentucky IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Science (IDeA Grant P20GM103436) and of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), which is supported by the National Science Foundation (ECCS-1542164).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • E-waste
  • SEM-EDS characterization
  • copper
  • density separation
  • gold
  • liberation
  • metal enrichment
  • size distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


Dive into the research topics of 'Material Characterization and Physical Processing of a General Type of Waste Printed Circuit Boards'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this