The Korea Herald


[From the Scene] SK's recycling unit breathes new life into e-waste

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Jan. 16, 2024 - 15:39

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TES, SK Ecoplant's wholly owned electronics waste recycling subsidiary, in Las Vegas (SK Ecoplant) TES, SK Ecoplant's wholly owned electronics waste recycling subsidiary, in Las Vegas (SK Ecoplant)

LAS VEGAS -- In the middle of the sandy windswept desert of Las Vegas, SK Ecoplant’s recycling subsidiary, TES, realizes a circular economy through the destruction and recycling of electronic waste.

The 3,700-square-meter facility, the fourth of its kind in the US, specializes in IT asset disposition, or ITAD, which destroys various types of information stored in IT equipment -- from PCs and laptops, to hard disks and data center equipment -- in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

Stacks of used electronic devices were waiting for workers to delete the data step by step -- a fully manual process dubbed "data sterilization." Only devices whose data has been completely deleted can be reused.

Oh Jong-hun, chief strategic officer at TES, stressed that the strict protection of personal information and brand integrity in the processing and disposal of IT waste is crucial.

Devices that can not be reused are put into special equipment and crushed into handfuls of powder. This process, designed to prevent information leakage, is requested by clients. The piles of debris are then sent to other TES facilities for recycling.

"ITAD includes not only the destruction of information but also the eco-friendly recycling and reuse of IT assets," Oh said during a tour Thursday. "ITAD's ultimate goal is to minimize the amount of IT asset disposal and reuse them."

Founded in 2005 in Singapore, TES was acquired by SK Ecoplant in 2002, as the Korean energy and construction firm highly valued the IT life cycle solution company's competitiveness. It has secured a value chain as a leading ITAD service provider with 46 facilities in 23 countries.

On the back of the rapid growth of artificial intelligence and cloud-related industries, demand for hyperscale data centers is expected to increase, and the quantity of computing equipment, such as servers, requiring ITAD is anticipated to grow as well, the CSO said.

According to recent data by Allied Market Research, the ITAD market is expected to grow to $144 billion in 2028 from $50 billion in 2020.

Employees work at TES' facility destroying and recycling IT assets in Las Vegas. (SK Ecoplant) Employees work at TES' facility destroying and recycling IT assets in Las Vegas. (SK Ecoplant)

Oh noted that TES is looking to build a new facility in Virginia, about three times the size of the Las Vegas facility, within the first quarter, to dominate the promising market.

Together, the Las Vegas site will extend its services to recycling end-of-life EV batteries in western North America as it is eyeing more opportunities in emerging EV and battery industries in Nevada, he added.

“Nevada has great potential as a business site for the recycling of used EV batteries. ... We are considering ways to create synergy by utilizing the supply chain that TES has secured (in Nevada), which connects collection, recycling, rare metal extraction and reproduction," Oh said.

Under the plan, SK Ecoplant CEO Park Kyung-il met with Governor of Nevada Joe Lombardo at the TES plant Sunday and discussed TES’ e-waste business, battery recycling technology and global network expansion.

"When it comes to waste battery recycling, SK Ecoplant and TES are evaluated as having all three key elements -- logistics, location and license -- to dominate the market," the CSO said.

"Recently, we've achieved a 97 percent recovery rate of nickel and cobalt and a purity of 99.9 percent through solvent extraction, and have completed preparations to go global."

Meanwhile, TES also holds 40 valid Basel permits, which are essential for the global transportation of hazardous waste -- such as e-waste and end-of-life batteries -- under the Basel Convention signed in 1989.