Stanford Researchers Make Recyclable Laptop

Stanford University graduate students develop a recyclable laptop.

by / July 5, 2011

Reinventing the laptop is often left to Apple, HP and other tech giants. But in 2009, a team of three Stanford University graduate students joined them in the ranks.

The Bloom is a recyclable laptop that can be disassembled without tools in less than 45 seconds. The Stanford students — Aaron Engel-Hall, Rohan Bhobe and Kirstin Gail — created the laptop in a graduate mechanical engineering course that challenged the students to address a real-world problem: e-waste. They were paired with four students from Aalto University in Finland to build the laptop. 3-D design software company Autodesk, the group’s sponsor, tasked the students with building a recyclable consumer electronic device.

After nine months of brainstorming, research and designing, the students completed the prototype. While conducting research, the team learned that most users don’t know how to recycle their laptops, Engel-Hall said, so it was important to design a laptop that made the process easy.

“The truth is that in any electronic device, there are some very hazardous materials if they’re not dealt with properly,” Engel-Hall said, “and many times will end up in landfills.”

E-waste is already an issue, and it will continue to worsen until 2015, when volume will peak at 73 million metric tons, according to Pike Research. Global volumes will decline in 2016 and beyond, however, as a number of key e-waste initiatives begin to turn the tide, the firm reports. And Bloom may play a role in solving the problem.

“Our goal for this laptop at the very beginning of the class was to alleviate e-waste as best we could,” said Engel-Hall, adding that the team chose to build a recyclable laptop because it posed the biggest challenge. “It was the most difficult device we could choose to make recyclable because it contains basically every ‘bad apple’ — every hazardous material and component that requires special handling to recycle than any other device has.”

Computer companies have shown interest in the laptop and its documentation, Engel-Hall said, but plans to manufacture it have not yet been made.

Parts like printed circuit boards, battery, hard drive and screen — which require special handling — can be inserted into a prepaid envelope that’s stored behind the laptop’s screen. The parts are sent to a facility that can properly recycle them.

Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.