University of Limerick
Coughlan_ 2018_Repurposing.pdf (5.28 MB)

Repurposing end of life notebook computers from consumer WEEE as thin client computers – a hybrid end of life strategy for the circular economy in electronics

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posted on 2022-08-23, 08:04 authored by Damian Coughlan
This PhD thesis presents an investigation into the feasibility of repurposing endof- life notebook computers as thin client computers. Repurposing is the identification of a new use for a product that can no longer be used in its original form and has the potential to become a hybrid re-use/recycling end-of-life strategy for suitable e-waste when direct reuse is not economically or technically feasible. In this instance, it was targeted to produce thin client computers using motherboards, processors and memory from used laptops while recycling all other components. Notebook computers are of interest for this type of strategy due to having a large environmental impact in manufacturing but often not having the option of direct reuse as they are prone to damage and experience a rapid loss of value over time. They also contain multiple critical raw materials with very low recycling rates. The notebook computers were sourced from Civic Amenity sites (CA) and originated from business-to-consumer (B2C) channels. A total of 246 notebook computers were collected and analysed. The paper outlines a methodology developed to identify, test, analyse, and dismantle suitable devices for repurposing. The steps undertaken were 1) Visual inspection, 2) Power-on test 3) Initialstage Functionality test, 4) Dismantling, 5) Post-dismantling testing, 6) Finalstage Functionality testing. The results from the developed methodology indicated that 9% of the notebook computers were suitable for repurposing as thin client computers. It recommends the following design changes to laptops that would support repurposing; 1) PCB mounted Fan and Heatsink assembly, 2) Eliminate daughter and I/O boards, 3) A separate Power Button assembly, 4) Reduction in size of the motherboard’s physical footprint. A streamlined lifecycle analysis based on Cumulative Energy Demand (CED) was undertaken to compare the impact of repurposed notebook computers with new thin client computers. The results indicated that there are significant potential savings to be made by extending lifetimes and offsetting the production of new thin client computers under a range of assumptions.


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  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Fitzpatrick, Colin

Second supervisor

McMahon, Muireann



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