Products ranging from smartphones to cars need printed circuit boards (PCBs). However, these essential components contribute to a massive electronic waste problem. It is unrealistic to assume all the involved parties are doing what is necessary to recycle these components responsibly. Plus, many consumers do not know recycling is an option. Biodegradable PCBs could encourage the necessary changes because they will break down rather than cluttering landfills.
Biodegradable PCB Trials Underway
German-headquartered company Infineon has started using a recyclable and biodegradable PCB featuring natural fibers and a halogen-free polymer. The Soluboard is an innovation from Jiva Materials – a startup based in the United Kingdom. One of the most notable advantages of this component’s materials is their significantly lower carbon footprint than glass-based fibers.
The PCB features a non-toxic polymer that dissolves after immersion in hot water. The resulting waste is organic and compostable. People can also recover and recycle the board-soldered electronics on these PCBs.
Infineon representatives have calculated the probable impact of switching from conventional materials in favor of these biodegradable options. They anticipate a 60% reduction in carbon emissions per square inch of PCB.
People at the company have created three demonstration boards with the materials and are exploring how to use them in future applications. For example, one is specifically designed for use in refrigerators. Infineon team members are also eager to get real-world feedback from clients who have these biodegradable PCBs in their applications. Receiving details about reliability and design options will undoubtedly shape new possibilities.
Mushroom Skins Become Polymer Substitutes
Using biodegradable materials is especially appropriate for industries progressively pursuing more sustainable options. For example, the energy industry has made tremendous strides in helping the world adopt renewable options and move away from fossil fuels. Solar panels typically need high-current and heavy-copper PCBs since these components are ideal for safety and load management.
It makes sense for the renewable energy sector and other eco-friendly industries to focus on biodegradable PCBs when possible. Some of them might even use materials found abundantly in nature. In one recent example, scientists discovered dried mushroom skins could become future polymer substitutes for projects involving flexible electronics. The researchers also see the potential of the mushroom skin getting used as a PCB substrate.
They confirmed this biodegradable material has various other properties that could make it an excellent choice to incorporate into PCB production. For example, the mushroom skin is strong, flexible and heat resistant. The researchers are also curious about how their work might apply to sensors or batteries.
Researchers Patent Their Biodegradable PCB
Developing an invention takes significant time and energy. It is also almost always true that people must engage in lots of trial and error to see what works well or does not. However, when a team patents an innovation, it is a sure sign they feel confident in its prospects. Such was the case with a group from the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design & Manufacturing.
They designed a PCB for low-power circuits, using natural materials such as sisal and flax instead of less sustainable, synthetic alternatives. The component also features biodegradable polymer resins, making the PCB durable enough for its intended uses.
However, the group has set its sights on improving PCBs used for educational reasons rather than large-scale manufacturing. That is nevertheless important, mainly because this approach could introduce learners to sustainable alternatives instead of making them assume PCB manufacturing invariably harms the planet.
Increasing Worldwide Awareness
International E-Waste Day happens every October 14. One of the goals of the 2023 event is to help people realize they can recycle anything with a battery, cable or plug. The organizers want to draw attention to so-called invisible e-waste.
It encompasses many products people do not typically perceive as e-waste, such as smoke detectors, electronic toys and e-cigarettes. These products usually contain PCBs, highlighting the urgency of using biodegradable components when possible.
More Progress Is Necessary
These advancements show how pioneering experts are making dedicated and meaningful efforts to reduce e-waste. Real-world trials will help the electronics industry’s decision-makers determine when or if they will switch to biodegradable options. Biodegradable PCBs can only have widespread impacts if enough producers commit to using – or at least testing – them.
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