6 December 2018
Life Cycle of Television Materials
Over the course of the past half decade, the television has gradually become a standard American household item, to the point where it is not uncommon for a household to own more than one television. As with any object made for human consumption, the television requires materials from an earth that can only provide a finite amount of such things. These materials come from many different sources, from many different areas of the world, and are all assembled into the different working parts that make up a television. The materials as they are found raw in nature range from argon gas to platinum ore, and many raw materials are then combined into other secondary materials that are then assembled into the parts of the television. Televisions depend on a wide range of these naturally found materials to be produced, but the main kinds of materials that make up a television are secondary materials produced from the combination of various raw materials, which makes the different parts of the life cycle of a television each more complex.
The raw materials that are extracted for use in a television come from many different sources, which makes the beginning of the television’s life cycle one that starts at many different places. One of the main types of materials used in televisions are plastics, namely thermoplastics such as polyethylene. Thermoplastics like polyethylene are used because they can be melted down and remolded repeatedly, which is part of the process in making the exterior casing of a television. Polyethylene is made from the polymerization of ethylene. Ethylene is produced from the cracking of ethane gas, which can be separated from natural gas. When the polyethylene is ready, it is molded into the specific shape that is required to encase a television, and is then set into that shape by using a thermoset. The thermoset is used to fix the meltable plastic in the shape that the plastic has been molded in, meaning that once the thermoset is fixed onto the plastic, the plastic cannot be melted again. The fixing of thermosets is necessary for electronic appliances like televisions that produce a significant amount of heat, so that the plastic that encases the television will not melt down. The most common thermoset used in televisions is urea formaldehyde. Urea formaldehyde is made by obtaining urea, a solid crystal, from ammonia gas, and by obtaining formaldehyde from methane gas. The two are then chemically combined to make the resin-like material that is used as a thermoset. Another main material that is used in most television is glass. Glass is the essential material that makes up the screen of a television, and is made from the chemical compound silicon oxide. All these materials are extracted and made in factories spread throughout the world, adding to the complexity of manufacturing televisions.
While plastics and glass are the main materials that make up the exterior of a television, the interior parts of a television are made up of a greater range of materials. Plastics are also used in the interior of a television, but inside of a television are also found gases and minerals. Gases such as argon, neon, and xenon gas fill the television screen for the purpose of projecting colors into the screen, and are made visible by the phosphor coating that coats the inside of a television screen. Glass and lead are also found inside of a television screen. These two materials make up cathode ray tubes, which are the video display components of a television. Other components that are found inside of a television also require thermoplastics like polyethylene, including components such as light valves, which work together with cathode ray tubes to enable the electrons inside to be visible on screen. The main electrical components on the interior of a television require a large amount of silicon; these include components such as the logic board, circuit boards, and capacitors. Once again, these materials are extracted and processed on several different continents. Silicon can be found in many different places, but a large supply comes from California. Meanwhile, many plastics are manufactured in China, while factories in the United States manufacture glass. These materials can be manufactured or extracted in other countries as well, which also helps to make the life cycle of a television a complex and global circle.
After these materials are all extracted, they must be processed so that they can make up a television. The main process that affects the raw material usage of a television is the injection molding process. This process is where all the plastics, specifically thermoplastics, that are used in a television are put together and shaped, essentially bringing many of the materials that were extracted for use in the television together. The plastics that will be shaped into television parts are ran through an assembly line of sorts in a factory. They are then melted down into molten plastic and poured into a mold matching the shape that the plastic is desired to conform to. Once that plastic has set in the mold, the thermoset is applied to ensure that the plastic will not melt down again. Thus, much of the materials that eventually go towards use in a television are applied and shaped into their desired form during this process. However, many more materials still need to be added in order to make the final product, and while plastics make up a large part of a television, there are still gases, minerals, and additional synthetic materials such as glass that must come together. The large spread of materials that need to be extracted to make up a television, and the array of locations that those materials are extracted and processed in, contribute towards making the life cycle of a television difficult to track.
Once the materials that will make up the television have been extracted and processed, the assembled television is ready to be distributed. Once again, the distribution process of televisions is spread out all around the world. In the case of Americans, televisions are no longer manufactured in the United States. This means that the televisions must be shipped oversea to the United States, which is done by both plane and boat. Thus, the diesel fuel used to power both planes and cargo boats are used as raw materials in the life cycle of a television. The diesel fuel used in planes and cargo boats are usually kerosene based, which is obtained by distilling petroleum. Additionally, when the televisions get to the United States, they must be distributed by means of shipping trucks, which means the natural gasoline that they use are another addition to the raw materials that are involved in the life cycle of a television. As a final step in the distribution process, the televisions are usually packaged in cardboard boxes, which are commonly made from recycled paper. More plastic is then used to protect the television in the form of protective wrap such as bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is also made from the polyethylene that makes up many components of the television, making plastic a material that is essential to every stage thus far of the life cycle of a television, as well as being a material that makes the life cycle difficult to analyze.
Once the televisions reach the home of Americans, an additional stage of raw materials usage takes place. To install and properly use a television, additional items must be used in tandem with the aforementioned television. The television must be plugged into power using wires and power outlets, which use metal and polyethylene plastic, respectively. Specifically, most wires that power televisions are made from copper, as copper is a relatively cheap conductive metal. Televisions are also commonly used in tandem with TV remotes and DVD players. TV remotes are also mainly made from plastic. The plastic most commonly used in TV remotes is a thermoplastic polycarbonate made from acrylic plastic, which is turn derived from a chemical compound made out of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that produces acrylic acid. The additional components used in a TV remote use largely the same materials as the additional components in the main television, such as silicon. On the same note, DVD players use largely the same materials as a television. DVD players use a fair amount of thermoplastics as well for the outer casing, as well silicon for many of the interior components. Here again, plastic made all over the world is one of the main materials used to fuel the life cycle of a television, leading to the diffusion of many specifics regarding how exactly a televisions’ life cycle comes together.
After installation and the acquirement of accessories, televisions can last for a relatively long time without the need for frequent maintenance. However, when it is time for a television to be replaced, the process of doing away with the old television can be messy. Televisions are illegal to place into dumps in many states because of the hazardous mixture of gases and lead that they contain. Because of this toxic mixture of gases and lead, the majority of televisions are unable to be recycled. The specific way that the materials are combined do not allow for recycling without significant health risks to those people handling the recycling. Due to the hazards that recycling televisions pose, many televisions end up either being placed in dumps with nothing being done to them or being unused around homes. Currently, there are many researchers and research institutes attempting to try and solve this problem, such as a recent experiment done at Purdue University trying to extract the toxic materials out of the television in a cost-effective and efficient manner that still preserves the plastic for recycling. Many of these studies were done about three to five years ago, and as of yet, there is still no concrete solution to the problem of recycling electronic waste such as a television. However, progress in the form of ongoing experimentation is still being made toward a solution for effective electronic waste management.
As that progress is being made, televisions remain one of the main representations of the new digital age. They were one of the first digital products that were able to be distributed commonly across America, and ushered in a new era of consumerism. As of yet, it seems that humanity will have the means to make televisions for the long foreseeable future, though it remains to be seen how the complex life cycle of the raw materials used in a television will affect the planet.
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DES 40A & SAS 43
6 December 2018
Embodied Energy of the Life Cycle Assessment of an LCD TV
Televisions are globally one of the dominant selling products in the technology sector. China is the primary manufacturer, being home to many of the preeminent selling TV companies such as TCL, Skyworth and others that partner with Chinese manufacturers such as Samsung and LG. Although the number of televisions that are produced per year is not a record the public has access to, it is estimated that there are seven-hundred and fifty-nine point three million TV sets connected worldwide in 2018 . The cradle-to-grave of television production has five steps: the acquisition of raw and synthetic materials, the manufacturing process, the distribution and transportation, the use of televisions, and the disposal and recycling . Energy application is present in each of the five stages of the complete life cycle of televisions, specifically the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) model. The entire life cycle of televisions uses and produces energy that is not environmentally safe to human and animal health and the atmosphere. Even though television companies claim to be decreasing the environmental consequences, the immense presence of energy use throughout the cradle-to-grave of television production continue to result in hazardous effects.
Raw and Synthetic Materials:
The first step of the television life cycle, the acquisition of the materials, produces and uses the largest amount of energy of the steps. The acquiring process of the materials includes obtainment, collection, extraction, combination, and transformation of the raw and synthetic materials. The main materials are plastics, circuits, circuit boards, glass, metals and various materials such as indium-tin oxide and liquid crystal. Plastics make up the exterior pieces and layout of the television, as well as a fewer small pieces inside. Plastic is formed from crude oil or natural gas like fossil fuels, which have to first be mined from the earth’s core and then must be processed before the polymerisation process can be carried out. This process is used to chemically combine carbon monomers in order to form carbon polymers which make up plastic and give it it’s individual properties. Overall, plastics require motion energy and electricity to be mined and chemical energy to turn oil or natural gas into plastic. Circuits make up the various circuit boards along with minor metal or plastic pieces. The circuits are originally made of silicon dioxide, or silica, which must be extracted from the earth’s crust. More modernly, silica is being replaced by quartz by some manufacturing companies. Silica and quartz are both extracted from the earth using electricity and thermal energy through mining and extraction. Silicon dioxide is used in the circuit boards because it is a semiconductor, so it must be processed with drilling or thermal techniques to obtain the desired shape and form. The obtainment of materials for the circuits involves thermal energy and electricity through the multiple steps. Silicon dioxide is also the main component in glass which is made from heating sand or quartz with waste glass and soda ash into a liquid mixture to be molded into the desired solid shape. Thermal energy is the prime energy source in the transformation process of glass, but also the minor electricity source for the silica. The various metals that are found scattered through modern televisions include gold, lead and copper. Each of these metals must be mined and extracted from the earth requiring electricity and thermal energy must be applied in order to change the form into liquid to modify the shape for parts. Liquid crystal that is used in the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panels is found in various mineral forms and must be extracted using electricity. Indium-tin oxide (ITO) is “a scattered and rare element” that is found in the Earth’s crust, but is “challenging to [extract]” . It actually does not exist as an ore itself but it is “mainly produced as a by-product of zinc mining” or lead mining . The zinc and lead are mined using electricity and then using smelting techniques, which apply thermal energy, indium-tin oxide is processed out of the ores. The collection of the materials involves the extensive energy application of the varying types of energy. Once the materials are acquired, the manufacturing stage begins and the precarious energy utilization continues to grow.
The manufacturing phase applies the second most impactful energy use behind the first step, emitting hazardous effects in large, concentrated volumes. The production processes vary by manufacturer, but they generally contain assembly lines, machine tools and technology, automated robots and packaging. The plastic parts found throughout the structure and the inner parts are made using the well-adopted injection molding process. This process uses thermal energy to liquify plastic in order to be injected into the definite molds . After they cool, they must be cut and sized-down to perfection with saws and cleaned manually for safety as well as appeal . This requires electricity to function the saws and kinetic energy in human movements for the manual work . The LCD panels are composed of a variety of substances and materials, the most prominent being indium-tin oxide, liquid crystal and metal pieces . The panels are manually made adding the liquid crystal layer, the ITO layer and a few other metal and glass layers using either adhesives or screws to connect them all together. This process of building the LCDs exerts immense kinetic and mechanical energy by human labor. The glass flat screen for the television must be laser-cut to shape utilizing thermal energy and electricity. All of this electricity and thermal energy that is used in manufacturing requires incredible amounts of coal or fossil fuel consumption. The greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) resulting from the energy application are inordinately unsafe for the Earth in the short and long term. They are destroying our atmosphere which can damage plant life and harm the human and animal health. The manufacturing phase, although it is the second step most in energy consumption and emission, the concentrated levels of emission make it detrimental nonetheless. This stage includes the packaging and loading of the finished television sets in order to be ready for the next step, transportation and distribution worldwide.
Distribution and Transportation:
Television companies sell their products across their country, continent and even overseas; the transportation systems used to accomplish this apply a sizable quantity of energy consumption. Aircrafts, automobiles, and ships are the most efficient means of distributing televisions to consumers. Fossil fuels, ranging in quantity, are what fuel the combustion engines inside all of the transportation services. Chemical energy is applied inside the engines to convert the fuel into mechanical energy to propel the truck, ship or airplane forward . Efficient fuel consumption is still being studied for vehicles, airplanes and ships in order to decrease the energy intensiveness (EI) . The EI includes many factors such as speed, to travel longer distances, carry more weight and be as environmentally safe as possible. Combustion engines release GHG emissions dire to the atmosphere causing problems related to the health of the populations on Earth. Human labor is the other, non GHG emitting, component to move the TV products the shorter distances such as from the manufacturing factory to the trucks to the plane or ships to the stores that then sells them to consumers. The human interaction with the transportation stage only entails kinetic energy. Transportation is also employed in the acquisition of materials stage to move the inputs from the site to factories and the disposal and recycling stage from consumers to the facilities. Energy conservation of means of transportation is intensively studied to lower the consumed energy and the GHG emissions, but a permanently sustainable solution has not been discovered yet.
Televisions notoriously require electricity to function, which entails an incomparable utilization of coal, natural gas or solar sources. The average household in developed countries has at least one connected television set, but many have numerous. Televisions are used in many other settings such as public places like hospitals, restaurants, schools, stores, salons, arenas and even transportation services more modernly, like airplanes, cars and trains. The absurd amount of TVs used around the world necessitates the massive ratio of natural gas and coal. Solar power for electricity is accessible but is not a widely adopted method. The burning of natural gases and coal for electricity exudes GHG emissions, obviously detrimental consequences to the environment. The consumer use stage, though it’s embodied energy is hazardous to Earth and its inhabitants, it is minor in the comparison of manufacturing and procurement of materials. A larger concern with televisions is the end-of-life care after consumers desire upgrades or replacements.
Disposal and Recycling:
TV sets inevitably must be replaced, but disposal techniques are still being experimented in terms of safety, procurement of materials and the energy application, including the effects. If televisions are not recycled and disposed properly, the materials can leak into the ground contaminating clean water systems and the plant life or harm humans who do not disassemble the TVs safely . The best method for dismantling has proven to be to retrace the manufacturing process backwards to disassemble it most cost-effectively and with the most recovery of materials . A comprehensive study by Ardente and Mathieux (2014) initiated an ideal method that consists of five steps to dismantle LCD panels as well as other electronic devices: “reusability, recyclability, recoverability, recycled and use of hazardous substance” . Experiments to retrieve and reuse all of the materials have yet to be successful, but a few of the materials have favorable results including plastics, precious metals, glass and ITO. The basis of the disassembly from LCD panels has the highest efficiency when dismantled and extracted manually rather than mechanically which applies large amounts of kinetic and mechanical energy . The numerous plastic parts are best recycled using two techniques: energy recovery (or thermal recycling) and mechanical recycling (or material recycling) . Energy recovery is incineration of plastic waste to be used as electricity involving kinetic and mechanical energy by manual labor, but mostly uses electricity and thermal energy to incinerate the plastics. Mechanical recycling is plastic waste being recycled into other resources utilizing kinetic or mechanical energy by manual labor as well as potential energy and gravitational energy of the materials . Precious metals and glass both use kinetic, mechanical and thermal energies to be extracted manually, crushed down and then typically sold to be melted down to reform for other products. Indium-tin oxide is the most recycled raw material in LCD panels and can be fully extracted by numerous techniques encompassing leaching , sorption , and pyrolysis . These each include exposing the LCD panels to varying chemicals, high temperatures and a range of pressures . Overall, the recovery of ITO by means of recycling involves intensive chemical, thermal and pressure energies. This final stage of disposal and recycling of LCD televisions has the most exposure to research and experimenting. It encompasses the second highest levels of energy application, relatively identical to the manufacturing phase, but there is vast potential to lower this energy consumption and waste to a more environmentally friendly approach.
The life cycle analysis of televisions is years from being complete; the manufacturer companies do not give public access to the details of each step yet and there has not been an abundance of research. The embodied energy is the least investigated aspect of the life cycle of television sets. Televisions, being abundantly produced and sold to consumers, are constantly being upgraded in terms of design, environmentally friendly, and energy capacity. Recycling of the raw materials, as well as plastics and glass, is being experimented with the most. Indium is the most prominent to be extracted and reused for more technology since indium is being mined at a rate that is running out. Television companies are competing to find safer procedure to carry out all five steps of the cradle-to-grave of TV sets. The main take away from this analysis: energy that is used and produced from the life cycle is still hazardous to the environment and the health of humans and animals. If TV manufacturer companies do not find new techniques for the acquisition of raw and synthetic materials, the manufacturing process, the distribution and transportation, the use of televisions, and the disposal and recycling, we will run out of materials and further destroy the atmosphere and the human and animal health.
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6 December 2018
Life Cycle of LCD Televisions’ Waste and Emissions
The manufacturing of televisions has continuously been monitored as a part of the life cycle assessment in the modern day society. A television is simply a machine powered by electricity that displays images on a screen and sounds out of the speakers. Current models of TVs are mainly focused on the LCD TV, which is a liquid crystal display television. LEDs, light-emitting diodes, are the source for illuminating light by the movement of electrons on a semiconductor that gives off the variation of colors behind the display. Creating the televisions by incorporating LEDs and additional metal elements into a contained liquid crystal display with a plastic frame is the main concept for the TV. During the production of an LCD TV, the detrimental effects to the environment of the waste and emissions such as greenhouse gases from the materials of the metals can be observed through the assembly process of the television and the disposal of the substances.
As the amount of TVs are increasing for demand, the air pollution worsens in relations to the increase of metals for compact designs of the monitors. In the initial phase, the screen is created with silicon oxide and indium tin oxide that are used for polishing the glass layers. The silicon oxide is a colorless material consisting of quartz as the main ingredient while the indium tin oxide is a yellow colored substance that acts as a coating for clearness. According to the Laboratory Chemical Safety Summary, the National Institutes of Health states that silicon dioxide “may cause mechanical irritation to the eyes, respiratory tract and skin” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008). The substance is hazardous as a solid form of dust particles that can be inhaled through the air. Though, silicon dioxide is applied to the glass screens in a liquid form ,which is not toxic to the workers, to smoothen the surface and correctly position the liquid crystals. Air borne inhalation of the chemical is not as harmful as the physical contact with the substance itself. Therefore, factories enforce workers to wear protective gear from the head to feet to prevent exposure to the liquids. Likewise, the indium tin oxide is cautioned with safety equipment and masks. In the Chemical Information Profile by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indium tin oxide, ITO for short, also “may cause severe irritation and burns to the skin or eyes” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009). Similarly, the substance is effective in a powdered form that may cause lung infection through inhalation. The screen is then made more transparent with ITO in a liquid state. Both substances obtain a fine quality of a glass screen and are not considered devastating to the surrounding. However, ingesting and direct contact with the chemicals can be severe with the side effects in mind. Refining the glass is not the most detrimental of the process but still requires attentive measures to prevent a high accumulation of the liquids.
Another substance that is harmful to the environment within the procedure mainly revolves around the nitrogen trifluoride on the LCD television. Nitrogen trifluoride is the main component for allowing the surfaces of the TV to be water and fingerprint resistant. The substance is physically applied by the hands of human workers. By adding on the substance to the screen, the fumes released in the factories are vacated through vacuums that lets the gas into the atmosphere of the earth. Otherwise, the chemicals may be trapped within the factories during production. The National Institutes of Health evaluated that the symptoms of inhaling nitrogen fluoride affects the “blood, liver, and kidneys” and targets humans and animals such as “dogs, monkeys, and rats” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018). While workers wear a suit and gloves to protect themselves from the fumes in the factories, the concentration of the gas remains toxic to wildlife that breathe on land. Although the process of coating the glass pieces are done in a sealed room to prevent leakage of the scent from the nitrogen trifluoride to the rest of the factory, the outer perimeter of the buildings are not safe to breathe. In The Guardian, a report from Michael Prather, the director of the environment institute at the University of California, Irvine notes that “as a driver of global warming, nitrogen trifluoride is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide” (Sample, 2008). Carbon dioxide is already a major role played in polluting the atmosphere including the carbon emissions of the trucks during the shipment process. The amount of nitrogen trifluoride released is not a widespread issue with the concentration from the substance being contained. However, the growth is noticeable that nitrogen trifluoride is listed as a major “greenhouse gas” reported from Michael Prather in the Four Materials Illustrate Hazards Of Electronics Manufacturing (Gordon, 2017). Additionally, the composition of the air quality depicts a growing accumulation of the gas as the development of monitors of the television continue to flourish. Nitrogen trifluoride is a crucial factor to protecting and prolonging the televisions’ lifespan but contains a cost that endangers humans and animals.
In the creation of the LCD TV, there are waste factors that take place in removing the product after its lifespan. The plastic frame of the television is salvageable such that the product can be melted and reused again. But, metal components and chemicals that are built upon the circuit boards and monitors remain difficult to reattain the materials. In fact, recycling the flat-screen TV is not possible with another material within the components of the circuit boards, which is mercury. Denise Wilson of the WEEE: Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment reports that “inhaling mercury can lead to a myriad of behavioral and neurological problems such as insomnia, memory loss, tremors, and cognitive dysfunction” (Wilson, 2016). Even a low concentration of mercury is fatal for humans to take in while attempting to dismantle the television for deconstruction. Since the materials are not replaceable through recycling the LCD TVs, material costs are risen due to the rarity of finding the natural raw materials such as gold, silver, and copper for the circuit boards. Other materials that include indium tin oxide are nonrenewable which also limits the maximum amount of TVs produced. Furthermore, removing the metals from the television has a drawback of releasing toxicity. Wilson adds that dioxins exposed from deconstructing LCD TVs “lead to impairment of the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems as well as alter liver function” (Wilson, 2016). Dioxins are a pollutant to the air that is toxic for humans to inhale. The collective chemicals can be seen through both the production for the screen and the elimination of the product after usage. To prevent the releases of the gases into the air, depleted televisions are brought into specialized recyclers to harvest the remains of the electronics. Despite the efforts of replenishing the components, factories that melt away the components are still in existence to removing the waste. According to the author of Recycle Nation, Sophia Bennett states that “as televisions are run over by crushing equipment in a landfill, or burned in an incinerator, they release those heavy metals that can seriously affect human health” (Bennett, 2014). The physical process of “crushing” the materials is a wasteful method of removing the scarce resources from the circuit boards. Meanwhile, the chemical process of burning the metals secretes carbon and dioxin emissions and leaves solid wastes of mineral compounds. With that in mind, the electronic device must carefully be readjusted to contain friendly environmental substances that are reusable and reduce the harmful symptoms to the atmosphere.
Transporting the product of the LCD TVs also contributes to the pollution of the environment with greenhouse gases after the assembly is finished. In the delivery phase, the televisions are encased in large cardboard boxes and can be shipped to designated locations on land, water, and air. Trucks, ships, and planes all produce carbon dioxide as fuel is burned within the respective engines for the mobile vehicles. For instance, the internal combustion engine for trucks burns diesel fuel to power the pistons while the ships use coal to supply energy to the propulsion engines. Planes have the similar effect with the design of an engine that requires diesel fuel or gas. The modes of transportation mentioned beforehand increase in relations to the rising production of LCD TVs for consumers which results in a higher output of carbon dioxide as well. Thus, the carbon emissions from transporting the television is observed as a factor of damaging the ecosystem from the shipment process of the vehicles.
In essence, acknowledging the existence of the chemical substances released into the atmosphere from the waste and emissions of manufacturing and deconstructing an LCD TV is crucial for an understanding of the environmental impact it has on humans and the wildlife. As the production of televisions continue to develop the flat screen panels that incorporate toxic materials, more waste is produced as a result of the amount of TVs needed for the increase in supply and demand. In fact, electronic devices that focus heavily upon the usage of the chemical substances involves not only televisions but any creations with screens and monitors. Recording the findings of the symptoms from the chemical activities within the factories and the atmosphere allow producers and consumers to identify safer and more reliable resources that reduces the harm to the environment and life on earth. The life cycle of the television remains as an important subject for careful observations of the advancements developed upon electronic devices towards the future.
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