Written by Cory Chandler

Researcher Helps Dell, Other Companies Recycle Dead Computers

Date: March 2, 2005
CONTACT: Cory Chandler,

LUBBOCK - For an industrial engineer, Hong-Chao Zhang deals a lot with death. Namely, the death of computers and how to dispose of the corpses.

Dr. Zhang, director of Texas Tech University's Center for Applied Research in Advanced Manufacturing, has been working for nearly a decade with computer manufacturing companies like Compaq and Dell, Inc. to show them how they can strip the toxic materials out of obsolete computers for reuse.

In the rapid-fire world of electronics manufacturing, the span from cradle to grave can be as short as two or three years. New technology emerges. Hot products offer innovative features. Old computers, televisions or cell phones hit the scrap heap.

And therein lies the rub. Millions of tons of this "e-waste", laden with non-biodegradable parts and toxic metals, are dumped in landfills every year where they can pollute water supplies. In the United States alone, more than 500 million personal computers could be obsolete by 2007, according to some estimates.

Zhang said these PCs would circle the earth five times when stacked end-to-end. Other calculations pile them as Mount Everest in a single year.

"There are large amounts of these electronic products that end up in landfills, where the toxic materials and hazardous waste could be hard to deal with," he said. "Plus, these computers contain precious and very limited natural resources."

Zhang works with companies like Austin-based Image Microsystems to not only recycle existing computers, but influence the future conception of computer components to make them more environmentally friendly when they reach the end of their life.

Image Microsystems is partnered with Dell's Asset Recovery and Recycling program to transport and recycle old computers. Zhang and his students also have begun advised Dallas-based ATC Logistics and Electronics on recycling cell phones, estimating the company could gross as much as $120 million a year by tackling this task.

CONTACT: Hong-Chao Zhang, professor in Texas Tech University's Department of Industrial Engineering, (806) 742-4853, or