It’s the ultimate recycling?the litter that is thrown out of car and truck windows becomes the new pavement for these vehicles to drive on?although we aren’t actually throwing our old computers out the car window.

Discarded electronic circuit boards can now be converted into an asphalt “modifier.” The material makes high-performance paving material asphalt that is cheaper, longer lasting, and more environmentally friendly than conventional asphalt.

Researcher Zhenming Xu noted that millions of tons of electronic waste pile up each year, in the form of printed circuit boards used in personal computers, cell phones, and other electronic gear. They all contain toxic metals such as lead and mercury and pose a difficult disposal problem.

The boards also are difficult to recycle, but Xu’s group realized that they contain glass fibers and plastic resins that could strengthen asphalt paving. They developed a recycling method that separates toxic metals from circuit boards, so they end up with a fine, metal-free powder. When mixed into asphalt in laboratory tests, the powder produced a stronger paving material less apt to soften at high temperatures.

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