iNEMI Partners with Purdue and Tuskegee on a Far-Reaching Program to Create Sustainable Electronics

University-based program receives $3.2M IGERT grant from National Science Foundation

HERNDON, Va. — The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI), an industry-led consortium, is partnering with its member, Purdue University, and Tuskegee University on an international effort to replace conventional electronics with more sustainable technologies and train a workforce of specialists to make the transition possible.

The university-based Global Traineeship in Sustainable Electronics program is funded with a five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The Sustainable Electronics program combines education and training of future engineers with research to develop new, more environmentally friendly and sustainable materials. Carol Handwerker, Purdue's Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering and co-chair of the iNEMI Research Committee, is principal investigator for the project.

"The rapid, global proliferation of smart phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices has connected the world in positive ways, but the electronic waste is — literally — piling up,” said Handwerker. “We want to create materials that will allow computer components to be disassembled, recycled and reused. There is a growing realization that the traditional, linear model of consumption — 'design it, build it, use it, throw it away' —has long ceased being viable for electronics. That is why we proposed this innovative, integrative global education and research program to educate and train a Ph.D. workforce with an unprecedented capacity for analyzing complex dynamic systems."

Ties to Industry
iNEMI and six committed industry partners – iNEMI members Alcatel-Lucent, Celestica, Cisco, Dell and Intel, plus Heritage Environmental Services – will participate throughout the IGERT trainees’ education, research, and training program, providing, for example, the sponsorship of cross-disciplinary project topics for the IGERT student teams and industrial internship experiences to put the Sustainable Electronics curriculum into practice.

"This collaboration will enable doctoral students and faculty to take a global supply chain perspective that integrates engineering issues and business realities and enhance research effectiveness," said Ananth Iyer, Purdue’s associate dean for graduate programs, the Susan Bulkeley Butler Chair in Operations Management at the Krannert School of Management, and one of four co-principal investigators on the project. "Being linked to industry leaders and to research experts will offer us an opportunity to understand business challenges and provide impactful research solutions."

“Working with industry is critical to the program's success and, at the same time, programs like these are critical to industry,” said Bill Bader, CEO of iNEMI. “Industrial research has consistently decreased over the past two decades, making it important for industry to aggressively encourage and support academic research programs such as this one that focus on innovation to meet technology needs. This program is exactly the kind of collaborative opportunities we are looking for on behalf of our electronics manufacturing industry members.”

Robert Pfahl, iNEMI’s vice president of operations, will serve on the External Advisory Board for the Sustainable Electronics program, along with other industry representatives. He will also assist with international coordination of the program.

“This is an exciting program that has the potential to produce very real change,” said Pfahl. “iNEMI is pleased to be a part of this effort and is committed to its success.”

Research Areas
The Sustainable Electronics program will focus on three areas of research: (1) creation of polymers from nature for construction and disassembly, (2) development of methods and metrics to support sustainable product design and manufacture and (3) system and supply chain issues.
Materials development will focus on new, biologically derived materials for reducing the environmental impact of electronics, and will include:

  • “Nanocomposites” made of natural materials for structural applications in casings and circuit boards
  • Lignin and soy-based resins for circuit board construction to replace petroleum-based resins
  • Adhesives from marine organisms for the construction and disassembly of electronics
  • Green replacements for brominated flame retardants.

A Multi-Disciplinary, Global Approach
Program implementation will include specialists in many disciplines, from engineering and science to economics, anthropology, management, and political science.

"It's not just an engineering problem, and it's not just a technology problem," Handwerker said. "It involves people's behavior, dynamics of social systems, industrial systems, legislation and regulation. We will bring together all of these disciplines and people to address the complex set of issues related to sustainable electronics."

The program will involve university partners in Germany, Colombia, China and India, connected through globalHUB, a website for international collaboration based on Purdue's HUBzero software. It is expected to continue as a long-term Purdue-Tuskagee collaboration.

"We foresee a future of increasing collaboration on many fronts,” said Mahesh Hosur, a professor of materials science and engineering at Tuskegee and a co-principal investigator for the Sustainable Electronic program. "We are developing a curriculum, and we need to expand our research base on both campuses. The grant has strengthened the two-decade-long relationship that Tuskegee has had with Purdue in advanced materials through NSF and the U.S. Department of Defense."

The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, initiated in 1997 and now comprising approximately 125 award sites, continues into its sixth annual competition. The IGERT program has been developed to meet the challenges of educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists, engineers, and educators with the interdisciplinary backgrounds, deep knowledge in chosen disciplines, and technical, professional, and personal skills to become in their own careers the leaders and creative agents for change. The program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education, for students, faculty, and institutions, by establishing innovative new models for graduate education and training in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. It is also intended to facilitate greater diversity in student participation and preparation, and to contribute to the development of a diverse, globally engaged science and engineering workforce.

About Purdue University
Purdue University is a major education and research institution known for discoveries in science, technology, engineering, math and beyond. Founded in 1869 in West Lafayette, Indiana, the University proudly serves its state as well as the nation and the world. More than 39,000 students from all 50 states and 130 countries, along with some 850 student organizations and Big Ten Boilermaker athletics, make for a lively environment.

About Tuskegee University
Founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee University is home to approximately 3,000 students from the U.S. and 30 foreign countries. The institution is accredited by the Commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and all of its professional programs are accredited by their respective agencies.

About iNEMI
The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative’s mission is to forecast and accelerate improvements in the electronics manufacturing industry for a sustainable future. This industry-led international consortium is made up of more than 100 manufacturers, suppliers, industry associations and consortia, government agencies and universities. iNEMI roadmaps the needs of the electronics industry, identifies gaps in the technology infrastructure, establishes implementation projects to eliminate these gaps (both business and technical), and stimulates standards activities to speed the introduction of new technologies. The consortium also works with government agencies, universities and other funding agencies to set priorities for longer-term industry needs and R&D initiatives. iNEMI is based in Herndon, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), with regional offices in Shanghai, China; Limerick, Ireland; and Tokyo, Japan. For additional information about iNEMI, go to

For additional information:

    Purdue press release

    Emil Venere, Purdue University
    +1 (765) 494-4709

For further information:
Cynthia Williams
+1 207-871-1260