Wood in computers puts them in ‘green’ space

Reducing e-waste is achieved with softwood construction and scalability

The IAmEco V3 wooden touchscreen personal computer.

E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful” life. Computers, televisions, stereo equipment, copiers and fax machines are common electronic products.

The global computer market has a high environmental impact – the global manufacture of equipment, its use and disposal, accounts for 2% of the global CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to the entire aviation industry.

About 240 kg of fossil fuels and around 1.7 tonnes of raw materials – many of which are rare and finite – and water are needed to manufacture an average computer. Improper disposal of these electronic wastes results in the products ending up in landfills or otherwise in unregulated processing.

As a result, toxic substances like lead, mercury and cadmium leach into the soil and water, and also pollute the air and pose a threat to the environment. According to the United Nations, up to 50 million metric tonnes of electronic waste is discarded globally every year.

Currently, the near exclusive focus is on post-consumer recycling to solve the e-waste problem, where valuable essential metals such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, iron, steel, copper and aluminium can be extracted. However, this is itself part of the problem.

Rather than imposing bans on exporting discarded electronics or improving collect-destroy-recycle systems it would be better to have a relook at how electronic goods are currently being made and to see whether more sustainable material could be used.

Reducing waste

Mr Paul Maher and Ms Anne Galligan co-founded Micropro Computers in 1991. Mr Jose Ospina, who subsequently joined Micropro in 2003, helped develop the IAmEco range of computers. The team believed that it was better to build computers that did not harm the environment and started working on designing computers that would last up to 10 years, three times longer than the average. The goals in developing the laptop were to achieve a decrease of at least 30% in green-house gas (GHG) emissions, at least 70% of overall re-use and recycling of waste and a reduction of at least 75% of fresh water utilisation.

Working with partners in industry and academia the company achieved its goals through simplification and reduction in the number of parts used, reduction in the use of strategic, rare or hazardous materials, substitution with renewable or recycled materials, design and service structure for re-use, and extended life through upgradability.

As part of the certification process the IAmEco-V3 was tested by the US Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering and the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) who gave official confirmation of Eco-label accreditation in 2011.

IAamEco laptop

The IAmEco D4R laptop is the first truly environment-friendly laptop made from sustainable resources. The company has focused both on what the laptop is made from, and how it is made in order to reduce energy consumption, encourage re-use and eliminate waste.

Some of the key design elements include the development of a universal motherboard, with bus speeds of 800 MHz to 1333 Mhz which allows the use the main Intel i3, Intel i5 and Intel i7 processors. A high performance Solid State (SSD) hard drive was used and a Green DDR 30nm memory with low power requirements and high performance.

Almost all of the materials used in the computer are recyclable, including the wooden frame. Hazardous materials typically used in a computer manufacturing process have been reduced to a minimum for IAmEco and replaced with environment-friendly alternatives.

Because of their modular design, as new technology emerges, a user can update his/her computer to keep it up to speed, rather than throw it away and buy a new one. Despite being equally powerful, IAmEco computers are designed to use a third less power than a mainstream computer and lessen their impact on the environment.

The computers aren’t just good on the inside; they are beautiful on the outside too and are housed in beautifully designed wooden cases made of solid natural woods, including ash, maple and beech.

Global awards

Obsolescence has been designed out of the computers, making then easily disassembled and upgraded. This means that parts can be upgraded or replaced without time, cost or effort.  With a durable wooden shell and easily upgradable and replaceable parts and components, the IAmEco computers can always remain state-of-the-art, and never become unwanted or obsolete.

Key standard certifications were obtained for the unique design of the casing, the innovative wooden casing for the laptop, as well as the design of the rear aluminium casing and its patented heat dissipation design.

In 2015, IAmEco computers were awarded the Energy Globe Award in Ireland for developing a “green” computer in order to reduce, reuse and recycle computer waste, reduce CO2 emissions and fresh water use.

With more than 170 participating countries and over 1,500 project submissions annually, the Energy Globe Award is a prestigious environmental prize worldwide. It distinguishes projects that conserve resources.

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