Development of a laboratory scale air plasma torch and its application to electronic waste treatment

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  • N. Tippayawong; P. Khongkrapan

    ABSTRACT: Expansion in electrical and electronic equipment trade has led to significant increase in electronic wastewhich should be dealt with special priority due to its potential negative impact to the public health and the environment.Thermal plasma technology offers a very promising alternative of hazardous waste treatment for the near future. In thisstudy, a laboratory scale apparatus for generating high temperature plasma flame was presented. Design of a 20 kWplasma torch system was based on a non transferred direct current arc discharge with air as a medium gas. In thisinvestigation, measurements of temperature distribution were performed. It was shown that high temperature flamescan be generated, comparable to those reported in the literature. The gas temperature was found to increase with anincrease in power input. The flame temperature was found to further increase from 1210 K to 1480 K when a smallamount of added fuel gas. Assessment of electronic waste treatment using the air plasma system in a batch operationwas also carried out. It was shown that the system was able to convert the electronic waste into combustible gas andinert solid residues. High mass loss rate of bulk electronic waste was demonstrated.

    Keywords: Arc discharge; Hazardous waste; Plasma burner; Thermal treatment; Waste management

    Int. J. Environ. Sci. Tech., 6 (3), 407-414, Summer 2009ISSN: 1735-1472 IRSEN, CEERS, IAU

    Received 5 December 2008; revised 18 April 2009; accepted 15 May 2009; available online 1 June 2009

    *Corresponding Author Email: n.tippayawong@yahoo.com Tel.: +66 5394 4146; Fax: +66 5394 4145

    Development of a laboratory scale air plasma torch and its application to electronic waste treatment

    *N. Tippayawong; P. Khongkrapan Department of Mechanical Engineering, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

    INTRODUCTIONThe production of electrical and electronic

    equipment is one of the fastest growing businesses inthe world. The useful life of consumer electronicproducts is relatively short and decreasing as a resultof rapid changes in equipment features andcapabilities. Technological innovation and marketexpansion are accelerating the replacement of outdatedequipment, leading to a significant increase in wastethat induces a new environmental challenge. Concernsover environmental issues arising from these electricaland electronic products have led to a number ofenvironmental regulations such as the waste electricaland electronic equipment (WEEE) and restrictions onhazardous substances (RoHS) directives. Thesedirectives directly affect the electrical and electronicindustries throughout the world (Hsu and Hu, 2008).Electronic waste is considered to be one of the prioritystreams in waste management. Challenges faced byWEEE management are not only consequences ofgrowing quantities of waste, but also the complexityof WEEE (Nnorom and Osibanjo, 2008; Widmer et al.,2005). Electronic waste is loosely applied to consumer

    and business electrical and electronic equipment thatis broken, near the end of its useful life or unwanted. Itis one of the most complex waste streams because ofthe wide variety of products from mechanical devicesto highly integrated systems and the acceleratingtechnological innovations. Certain components ofsome electronic products contain materials that renderthem hazardous. Incineration is normally used for wastedestruction and reduction of waste volume (Shekdar,2009). However, some compounds such as chloride andheavy metals can remain in ash and cause secondaryenvironmental problems. Alternative thermal treatmenttechnology is required for sterilization, as well asvolume reduction.

    Need for high temperature thermal processing invarious applications such as solid waste destructionhas led to a rapid growth in the use of plasmas andplasma-based technologies into industry (Bonizzoniand Vassallo, 2002; Chang, 2001; Kogelschatz, 2004;Leal-Quiros, 2004; Pfender, 1999). Hazardous materialsmay be destroyed by the high-temperature plasmaenergy under the reducing or the oxidizing conditionof plasma gas. Plasma-chemical treatment technologyhas been used in the highly efficient processes such

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    as thermal cracking and oxidation of hazardous wastes(Kim et al., 2003) and gases (Zhu et al., 2008). Plasmascontain highly reactive species, such as electrons,ions and radicals which can enhance chemicalreactions. Plasmas can be divided into two categories:thermal plasmas and non-equilibrium plasmas. Thermalplasmas are atmospheric-pressure plasmascharacter ized by high enthalpy content andtemperatures about 2,000-10,000 K. Non-equilibriumplasmas are low pressure plasmas characterized byhigh electron temperatures and low ion and neutraltemperatures. Thermal plasma device or plasma torchproduces arc plasma column between two electrodes.There are several types of plasma torches: directcurrent (DC) arc torch, induction torch and high-frequency capacitive torch (Ganguli and Tarey, 2002;Venkatramani, 2002).

    There are a number of researches on treatment ofwaste using plasma torches. Inaba et al. (1998)developed a laboratory scale, 60 kW DC arc plasmatorch using argon as working gas and applied it tomelt fly ash into a glassified slag. Inaba and Iwao(2000) further utilized a plasma torch to treat wastes,and discussed aspects of plasma processes in thedestruction and removal of mixed wastes andhazardous wastes. Uhm and Hong (2000) developeda simple model to simulate physics of plasma torchand used the model to investigate an arc plasmasystem for waste treatment. They found that withoxygen as working gas, very high oxidation rate couldbe achieved. Wald et al. (2001) presented the use of apulsed plasma technology to treat hazardous wasteand reported higher destruction efficiency than otherconventional thermal methods. Kim et al. (2003)applied a 100 kW DC steam plasma to minimize dioxinsand furans from processing of polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCB) waste and found that the DC steamplasma process was efficient in decomposing highconcentration of PCB and minimizing the toxicbyproducts. Park et al. (2005) treated medical wastewith a pilot plasma unit and found that the temperaturerange between 1,450-1,850 K inside the plasma furnacecan be attained at a specific power of 1,125-2,100 kW/m2. Moustakas et al. (2005; 2008) reported successfulinstallation and testing of a demonstration 50 kg/hpilot plant with plasma vitrification system to treatindustr ial hazardous waste, as well as furtherperformance optimization. Tendler et al. (2005)presented a review and assessment of the hot

    temperature discharge physics and processing of thewaste, including vitrification, gasification, powergeneration and environmental advantages. Morerecently, Hong et al. (2006) and Bang et al. (2006)developed microwave plasma torches to produce hightemperature plasma flame. They reported a boost inflame temperature with hydrocarbon fuel injection thatcan be used for bulk treatment of waste. The latestreview on thermal plasma technology to date wasgiven by Gomez et al. (2009), where a comprehensiveanalysis of available literature on the current statusof waste treatment using thermal plasma technologywas presented.

    From existing literature, it was clearly shown thatplasma treatment was well established for commonwaste streams and there were modest amounts ofworks regarding hazardous waste. To the authorsknowledge, investigation on electronic wastetreatment with plasma is still very rare. Furthermore,most studies focused on using inert gases or steamas working gasses. Due to economic reason, use ofthe cheapest gas (the air) appears most practical.Therefore, the present investigation is an attempt tolessen this gap. In this study, a 20 kW atmosphericair plasma using DC discharge was developed for alaboratory study. The objective was to investigateDC plasma characteristics and utilize it to processelectronic waste.

    MATERIALS AND METHODSFig. 1 shows schematically design of a DC plasma

    torch, consisting of a steel rod cathode and an aircooled anode, shaped in the form of nozzle. The twoelectrodes are separated by an insulator which hasan inlet for plasma gas. When compressed air isintroduced thru the electrode gap and a DC arc isestablished between the electrodes, the plasma arc isemerged from the nozzle resulting in a hightemperature, high velocity plasma flame.Electromagnetic forces from magnetic coil and gasflow act to constrict the arc column. The body of thetorch was designed such that there are coolingchambers for cathode and anode. The torch wascoupled to the main power supply and operated in anon-transferred arc mode. Air or a mixture of air andother gases can be used as medium gas. Liquefiedpetroleum gas (LPG) can be injected to air plasma viaconnecting pipe. For the preliminary design, theoperation ranges of power and air flow of the plasma

  • N. Tippayawong; P. Khongkrapan

    Cooling air inlet

    Carrirer gas(air) inlet

    Insulator

    Cathode cooling chamber

    Anode

    Nozzle

    Other gas inlet

    Cathode

    Carrirer gas(air) outlet

    Anode cooling chamber

    Int. J. Environ. Sci. Tech., 6 (3), 407-414, Summer 2009

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    torch were limited to 12-20 kW and 300 l pm,respectively. Temperatures were measured at differentpositions of the flame by a type K thermocouple.These locations were linearly 10 or 20 mm apart inaxial direction and 5 or 10 mm apart in radial directionof the main flame column, starting from the torch exit.

    Fig. 1: Schematic drawing of a DC plasma torch

    Fig. 2: Schematic diagram of a plasma process for treatment of electronic waste;(1) plasma torch, (2) DC power supply, (3) air tank, (4) air flow regulator, (5) blower forcooling air, (6) LPG tank, (7) gas flow regulator, (8) furnace module

    A schematic diagram of a laboratory scale, plasmafurnace for treatment of electronic waste is shown inFig. 2. It was equipped with the air plasma torch, arefractory-lined circular reactor and a gas flare priorto exhaust. The dimensions of the reactor were about100 mm in diameter and 200 mm long. Old central

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    Air plasma and its application to electronic waste treatment

    processing uni t (CPU) board was used asrepresentative electronic waste. The waste of 0.2 kgcan be batch fed into the reactor where rate of reductionin mass and the reactor temperature were monitored.The research work was performed at Chiang MaiUniversity between October 2007 and October 2008.

    RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONPlasma torch performance

    From simple visual observation, a pure air plasmaflame showed milky white lights with blush-like,turbulent flame tip at normal operation. This was theexpected character of high ionized plasma density inair discharge. Plasmas flame exhibited marginalfluctuation in length with an observed average lengthof about 100 mm. The radius of the plasma wasobserved to be about 3 mm. The radius was found to

    have a slight increase as the power input increased.With addition of small amount of LPG, it was observedthat the color of plasma flame changed to bright, lightblue-ish. This may be attributed to the presence ofunstable CH radicals in the plasma. Nonetheless, theflame dimension did not show any significant change.Figs. 3 and 4 show temperature profiles of the airplasma flame. Temperature distributions along theaxial and radial directions at different power ratingswere illustrated. The results showed that the gastemperature increased with an increase in power input.This finding was in similar tendency to that reportedby Inaba et al. (1998). For the same input power, thegas temperature showed a decline along axial lengthand away from the flame center. The maximumtemperatures of the air plasma flame at the center ofthe flame exit were between 980 and 1, 210 K. This is

    Fig. 3: Axial distribution of plasma flame temperature

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    12 kW Temp (K) 15 kW Temp (K) 20 kW Temp (K) 20 kW + LP G Temp (K)Radial distance (mm)

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    Fig. 4: Radial distribution of plasma flame temperature

  • N. Tippayawong; P. Khongkrapan

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    Int. J. Environ. Sci. Tech., 6 (3), 407-414, Summer 2009

    significantly higher than 550 K, reported by Hong etal. (2006), but similar to 1,173-1,773 K, reported byTang and Huang (2005) for temperatures of air/nitrogenplasma generated by microwave source. However,when 5l pm LPG was injected as a fuel into the airplasma flame, the maximum gas temperature measuredby a thermocouple drastically raised to 1480 K.

    It should be noted that the fuelair mixture of theLPG was only 1.63 % which was well below the leanside of its flammability limit, defined as the boundarycomposition of the fuelair mixture beyond which gasis incapable of flame propagation (Mishra andRahman, 2003). Nonetheless, an increase in gastemperature after LPG addition may be resulted fromexothermic chemical reaction accomplished by hightemperature and high radical density of the plasmaflame, similar to that observed by Bang et al. (2006).From the preliminary experimental data, the air plasma

    burner may be used for bulk thermal treatment ofwaste.

    Destruction of electronic wasteElectronic waste can be processed using high

    temperature air plasma torch operated at 20 kW rating.In this experiment, CPU board of 0.2 kg was thermallydecomposed in the reactor. Measurement oftemperature evolution inside the furnace wasperformed. Result was depicted in Fig. 5. It should benoted that the plasma torch was fully emerged insidethe furnace and the temperature probe was positionedat the reactor axis, 100 mm away from the nozzle.

    It was evident that the reactor temperatureincreased at a rapid rate and leveled off around 1,200and 1,100 K at 50 and 100 mm, respectively. Thetemperatures at both locations were close but did notattain the maximum level reported previously in the

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    Fig. 5: Evolution of temperatures inside the furnace during plasma waste treatment

    Fig. 6: Variation of CPU board mass loss with time when exposed to 20 kW air plasma flame

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    naked plasma flame. This may be attributable to thefact that the plasma interacted with the waste and theplasma density decreased with distance. Nonetheless,a similar furnace temperature range to that reported byVaidyanathan et al. (2007) was obtained in this study.Fig. 6 shows rate of mass reduction in the samplenormalized by the initial mass when it was exposed toair plasma flame.

    It can be seen that more than 50 % of solidelectronic waste was reduced in less than 120 s andthe treatment was compl...

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