Idea Turns Old TV Tubes into X-Ray Shielding Tiles
A crowd-sourced contest garnered new ideas for how to deal with the heavily leaded glass components inside discarded TVs and computer monitors.
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Times are hard now for the actual tube inside of "boob tubes." For decades, glass cathode ray tubes displayed images in televisions and computer monitors. When a responsible TV-owner recycled an older model, the cathode ray tube inside would get new life inside a new TV. With the rise in popularity of flat-screens, however, researchers now need to find new ways to recycle the tubes, which can't simply get turned into new jam jars because they contain about 8 percent lead. The Consumer Electronics Association announced several winning early-stage ideas today from a contest they posted to the crowd-sourced problem-solving website InnoCentive, awarding $1,000 to $5,000 to their top contestants.
The lead in cathode ray tubes is there to protect TV-watchers from the X-rays produced inside the tubes, but ironically, they make the tubes more difficult to dispose of and recycle at the end of their lives. The lead is tightly bound to the glass and doesn't easily separate, said Walter Alcorn, who works on environmental affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association.
One idea, from Spanish environmental engineer Mario Rosato, was a process for removing the lead from the glass. The glass could then be put to "industrial uses," Alcorn told InnovationNewsDaily. Industrial-grade glass is an ingredient in asphalt, for example. This is the dream solution for cathode ray tube glass, but no one has yet created a process that has worked at an industrial level, Alcorn said. Like all of the ideas submitted to this contest, Rosato's solution was only an early-stage proposal.
Another was to mix the crushed glass tubes with cement, to make tiles for X-ray rooms. There, the lead in the tiles would protect people from X-ray radiation, just as they did inside old TVs. The idea came from Robert Kirby, a mechanical engineer in New Mexico.
The world threw away 2.37 million tons of consumer electronics in 2009, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Half of that, by weight, comprised of TVs and computer monitors, Alcorn said.
The EPA says electronics that end up in properly-managed landfills don't leach dangerous chemicals into the environment, but the agency encourages recycling because recapturing the precious metals inside used electronics reduces the need to mine more of those metals. Only 300 million pounds, or about six percent of discarded consumer electronics, were recycled in 2010, Alcorn said.
The Consumer Electronics Association doesn't have any further plans for developing the ideas they solicited. "We did this to raise the visibility of the challenge and to identify potential solutions to this recycling challenge," Alcorn said.