Systematic Design of Bulk Recycling Systems under Uncertainty

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Wei, Jing
Realff, Matthew J.
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The fast growing waste stream of electronic and other complex consumer products is making the bulk recycling problem an important environmental protection issue. These products must be recycled because they contain hazardous materials such as lead and mercury. The focus of this thesis is the development of systematic methods for designing systems to recover mixed plastics from electronic products such as computers and televisions. Bulk recycling systems are similar to other chemical engineering process systems. Therefore they can be synthesized and designed using some existing techniques that have been applied to distillation and reaction systems. However, the existence of various uncertainties from different sources, such as the variation of component fractions and product prices, makes it crucial to design a flexible and sustainable system, and is also a major challenge in this research. Another challenge is that plastics can be separated by different mechanisms based on different properties, but separating a mix of plastics often requires using a combination of different methods because they can have overlapping differentiating properties. Therefore many decisions are to be made including which methods to choose and how to connect them. To address the problem systematically, the design under uncertainty problem was formulated as a stochastic Mixed Integer Nonlinear Program (sMINLP). A Sample Average Approximation (SAA) method wrapped on the Outer Approximation method has been developed in this thesis to solve such problems efficiently. Therefore, large design under uncertainty problems can be solved without intractable computational difficulty. To allow making choices from separation methods by different mechanisms, this research modeled various plastics separation methods taking account of the distribution of particle properties and unified them using a canonical partition curve representation. Finally, an overall design method was proposed in this work to incorporate the design of size reduction units into the separation system. This research is the first formal development of a systematic method in this area to account for uncertainties and interactions between process steps.
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