News Stories

Computer Pollution

Old computers are being dumped in Asia where they are releasing toxic materials into the environment. The report ?Exporting Harm: The Hi-Tech Trashing Of Asia? describes a group of villages in China where computers from America are picked apart with the remains littered along rivers and fields. ?I?ve seen a lot of dirty operations in Third World countries, but what was shocking was seeing all this post-consumer waste,? says Jim Puckett of the Seattle-based Basel Action Network, one of the authors of the report.

The transfer of hazardous waste is restricted by a 1989 treaty known as the Basel Convention, but the United States hasn?t ratified it. By publishing their report, the campaigners hope to increase pressure on American companies and politicians to do more to recycle computer waste.

Electronic waste is the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world, with toxic ingredients such as lead, mercury and cadmium being released into the environment. The campaigners visited the waste sites in Guiyu, China, in December where people were smashing up machines to scavenge for the precious metals inside. Workers with no protection against hazardous materials burned plastics and circuit boards or poured acid on electronic parts to extract silver and gold, filling the air with carcinogenic smoke and polluting the water.

Investigations in Pakistan and India reveal that these countries are also receiving and processing waste electronics from the West. This is becoming an increasing problem, since millions of computers become obsolete each year and new computers become less expensive.

Most of this waste electronics finds it way to the developing world. As much as 80% of the electronic waste collected in the U.S. for recycling is shipped out of the country. ?Everybody knows this is going on, but they are just embarrassed and don?t really know what to do about it,? says Ted Smith, head of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. ?They would just prefer to ignore it.?

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One solution? Tiny computers that are too small to litter. Scientists say computers the size of molecules may be closer than we think.

Developments in nano-technology are years ahead of schedule. These breakthroughs come from the discovery of techniques to build miniscule working circuits. This involves hooking up tiny devices such as transistors, wires and switches to form tiny working circuits.

These devices exist in a realm of miniaturisation known as the nanoscale, between one and a thousand nanometers in size. The diameter of a single human hair is 150,000 nanometres.

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Some of the hazardous metals in computers may be replaced by H2O. Water-cooled processors, which are currently used in supercomputers, may soon be part of your laptop.

Hitachi has developed a notebook PC that uses a water-based solution to cool down its Pentium 4 processor and is planning to produce it in the third quarter of this year.

The faster the processing speed of a chip gets, the more heat it generates, and this can cause trouble if the heat is not dissipated. On notebook PCs this is usually done with an air-cooling system that makes use of a fan bolted on top of the processor. In the new machine, Hitachi has adopted a water-cooling system, which the company says works more efficiently and makes less noise than a fan-based system.

Inside the notebook PC, a stainless steel tube of between 1 yard and 1.6 yards in length and seven-one hundredths of an inch in diameter is placed over the chips. Through the tube, 1.7 ounces to 2 ounces of a water-based solution runs at a speed of .3 ounces per minute and absorbs the heat. The temperature of the solution can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hot water solution is then sent to the display part of the notebook where the heat is released. By repeating this cycle, the system cools down the chips. A water tank is placed at back of the display panel and there is a pump in the main body of the machine.

The price and size of the water-cooled PC notebook will be about the same as current laptops. Power consumption will also be about the same. However, the water cooling system should have a life cycle 1.7 times longer than an air-cooled system.

Hitachi hopes to commercialize the product sometime between July and September 2002, starting with corporate users in Japan.

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