Coventry University wins Times Higher Education Award for game-changing electronic waste project

Sebastian Farnaud dressed in a suit holding the Times Higher Education award trophy on a stage alongside colleagues and hosts

Sebastian Farnaud and Coventry University colleagues collecting the Times Higher Education award trophy

Research news

Friday 08 December 2023

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Coventry University has won a Times Higher Education (THE) Award for a project which uses bacteria to recover precious metals from electronic waste.

The work led by the university’s Research Centre for Health and Life Sciences and Research Centre for Manufacturing and Materials in collaboration with IT disposal firm Network 2 Supplies (N2S) saw Coventry University awarded the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year prize. The project included funding from Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme.

Of the 50 million tonnes of electronic waste generated globally each year, only 15 to 20 per cent is recycled, with the vast majority shipped overseas to be burned in highly polluting extraction processes. Rare metals such as lithium, silver, copper and platinum valued at £47 billion annually are also lost in this way. Lithium is vital to the electric battery industry and the shift to net zero and clean growth.

N2S and Coventry University researchers developed innovative solutions to recover these metals from the millions of printed circuit boards thrown away every year. The electro-chemical methods created in the laboratory were later transferred to an industrial context – the first time that “bioleaching” had been applied in e-waste recovery.

The judges were impressed with the “interdisciplinary approach to a growing environmental issue”, adding: “The embedding of this expertise within the company has transformed the business into a true leader in this area. The partnership has continued to innovate, demonstrating the synergistic nature of the relationship.”

We are delighted that this project has been recognised by the Times Higher Education Awards and is testament not only to Coventry University’s and N2S’ hard work, but also to our dedication to tackling global sustainability challenges such as clean growth and climate change.

Sebastian Farnaud, Professor of Bio-innovation & Enterprise at the Research Centre for Health and Life Sciences

After 19 years, hundreds of winners and many thousands of entries, one might expect to get used to the amazing examples of excellence highlighted by the Times Higher Education Awards.

But the sheer depth of innovation, talent and dedication that exists at every level of universities across the UK and Ireland never fails to impress.

From examples of individuals making extraordinary contributions, to teams and cross-departmental initiatives leading the way, our winners exemplify the broad spectrum of ways in which universities are excelling and making a difference.

John Gill, Times Higher Education editor

Our approach to research is built around co-creation where we work with and for the end users of our research to make an impact on the big global challenges facing society. The judges recognised this innovative work with NS2 is making genuine strides in the drive for net zero, clean growth and a circular economy.

Professor John Latham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of Coventry University Group