Brunel invents 'green' phone

July 14, 2000

Engineers at Brunel University have developed an environmentally friendly mobile phone.

The development of the telephone, on display at the Science Museum's new contemporary science wing, has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

It will hopefully put an end to the rising mountain of waste mobile phones.

Most mobile phones are dumped when they have reached the end of their usable life, but legislation drawn up by the European Union could force manufacturers to recycle many electronic gadgets, including phones.

However, dismantling mobile phones and hand-sorting the pieces for recycling is expensive. The Brunel phone, engineered by Joe Chiodo, Eric Billett and David Harrison, can be taken apart simply by heating it.

It is made from special metals and plastics, each with a "memory" of its original shape. When heated they lose their shape and revert to the shape that they remember. The phone then pops apart ready for recycling. Pieces can be picked out for reuse and the parts containing toxins can be separated.

Different parts are triggered to change shape at different temperatures, so that the phone falls apart in a controlled way. The research team hope to develop electronic products that would be able to "drop" different parts as they pass along a conveyor belt and the heat is slowly increased.

Mr Chiodo, the phone's designer, said: "Recyclable mobile phones could be in the shops by 2005, but they will only be a success if we can make them as cheap as other mobile phones."

The first experimental mobile phone made from shape memory polymer is now on display in Antenna, a new exhibition in the Science Museum's Wellcome Wing. Antenna will be updated frequently to present the latest science and technology news.

Brunel University is the coordinator of a Pounds 1.8 million EU design research project on Active Disassembly, of which the mobile phone is a product.

The project will be carried out in the 5A-star rated department of design's environmentally sensitive design research group, in collaboration with three global electronics manufacturers - Sony, Nokia and Motorola - Indumetal, a recycling company in Spain, and two research institutes in Spain and Germany.

The project will be led by Professor Billett, supported by Dr Harrison, and will build on Mr Chiodo's work on concepts of active disassembly.

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