Closing the loop on electronic waste with RFID technology

Recycling electronics
Key topics and areas of research in sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing
  • Energy efficiency: Developing processes that reduce the energy required for semiconductor fabrication
  • Waste reduction: Implementing strategies to minimize material waste and chemical use in manufacturing
  • Supply chain sustainability: Ensuring that all stages of the supply chain, from raw material extraction to final product delivery, are environmentally responsible.
  • Worker well-being: Focusing on the social aspect by ensuring fair labor practices and improving working conditions.
  • Product life cycle management: Researching ways to reclaim and recycle valuable materials from end-of-life semiconductor products

As the world grapples with the environmental impacts of electronic waste, Oregon State University is taking decisive action. The Software-Hardware Recycling and Repair Dataset Infrastructure project for sustainable computing, in collaboration with the University of Florida, is emblematic of the joint commitment to sustainability, leveraging innovative RFID technology to forge a new standard for the electronics industry. This technology is not a mere addition but a fundamental rethinking of how devices are manufactured with end-of-life in mind, ensuring that every component can be accounted for and potentially repurposed. Against a backdrop where electronic waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream globally, with an estimated 53.6 million tons produced in 2019 and only 17.4% documented as formally collected and recycled, the SHReDI project’s approach is more critical than ever. By implementing the extended producer responsibility approach for electronic waste, this initiative not only reduces the environmental impact but also addresses the pressing challenge of e-waste management.

The SHReDI project: A collaborative leap into sustainable manufacturing

Integrating at the manufacturing stage, the SHReDI project, led by Arun Natarajan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is set to revolutionize device tracking with its RFID chip technology. Developed under Natarajan’s guidance, these chips are designed to act as the device’s memory, meticulously recording material composition, usage patterns, and other critical metrics. This data can guide the crucial stages of disassembly and material recovery, enabling efficient recycling and reuse. This approach represents a shift in manufacturing perspectives, treating the end of a product's life cycle with as much importance as its beginning.

The implications of such an initiative are far-reaching. For the semiconductor industry, which lies at the heart of electronic device manufacturing, the potential to reclaim and recycle materials could lead to a substantial reduction in the need for virgin resources, a decrease in manufacturing costs, and a significant lowering of the environmental burden.

Electronic devices life cycle representation; details provided in caption.
Starting with thoughtful design at the outset, the electronic devices life cycle progresses through each stage, emphasizing the sustainable approach to electronic device management.

Part of the SHReDI initiative is led by Karl Haapala, professor of manufacturing engineering and director of the Energy Efficiency Center at Oregon State. His expertise in sustainable manufacturing systems adds a critical dimension to the project. Collaborating closely with him is Sara Behdad, associate professor at the University of Florida, whose research focuses on end-of-life decision-making for electronics. Together, collaborating with researchers across the university and industry, they are forging a path to a more sustainable future in electronics.

“Our collaborative research with SHReDI encompasses electronics-related software, hardware recycling, and repair database infrastructure, crucial for a circular economy for electronics,” Haapala said.

The focus is on honing the pioneering RFID technology, developing model-based approaches for end-of-use product valuation, and broadening the influence of this research among industry stakeholders. Oregon State’s trajectory is set far beyond short-term achievements; it is about establishing a foundation for a manufacturing ethos that values sustainability and human well-being equally.

Industry 4.0 and beyond: Embracing the human element in sustainable manufacturing

In the pursuit of sustainable manufacturing, technological innovations often dominate the discussion. However, the integration of the human element is pivotal for true advancement. Oregon State University is leading this integration, combining Industry 4.0's technological foundations with the human-centric approach of Industry 5.0 to set new standards in manufacturing. This approach not only enhances efficiency and innovation but also ensures a balanced focus on sustainability and economic viability.

Industry 4.0 signifies a shift towards digitalized and interconnected manufacturing environments, utilizing IoT, AI, and big data analytics. Oregon State has been instrumental in this transformation, optimizing manufacturing processes while emphasizing environmental and economic sustainability. With the advent of Industry 5.0, the university is further pioneering the synergy between advanced technology and human creativity, aiming to infuse ethical judgment and personalized innovation into manufacturing. This evolution represents a significant move towards a future where technology is augmented by the irreplaceable value of human insight, marking a more integrated and forward-thinking approach in manufacturing.

Oregon State is championing efficiency and sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing through notable projects, including the SHReDI initiative’s groundbreaking RFID technology and the forward-thinking principles of Industry 4.0 and 5.0. Each, in its own capacity, is pushing the envelope, inviting industry collaboration to harness these advancements for a more sustainable future.

To explore collaborative opportunities, or the semiconductor program in general, get in touch with us at:

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Feb. 21, 2024