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Eco-friendly circuit board releases its electronics when exposed to hot water

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October 31, 2012

A sample of the new circuit board material, being prepared for salvage

A sample of the new circuit board material, being prepared for salvage

As our smartphones and computers continue to become obsolete and get discarded, the environmental problem of electronic waste gets worse. Needless to say, the greater the number of electronic components that can be reclaimed and reused, the better. That’s why scientists from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have developed a printed circuit board that falls apart when immersed in hot water.

The board itself is composed of “unzippable polymeric layers.” While these layers are able to withstand prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing, they separate from one another when exposed to hot water. The conventional components mounted on the boards – such as resistors, capacitors and integrated circuits – can then simply be scraped off, fully intact and ready for reuse. Additionally, the material can be used not only for flat, rigid boards, but also for flexible electronics and three-dimensional structures.

In lab tests, it was found that 90 percent of the original circuit board components could be salvaged. By contrast, according to NPL, just two percent of the material in existing circuit boards can be re-used.

The technology was developed as part of Britain’s ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project, in partnership with tech firms In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials. It’s reminiscent of Stanford University’s Bloom laptop concept, which is designed to be easily disassembled for recycling.

A demonstration of the NPL material can be seen in the video below.

Source: National Physical Laboratory

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
7 Comments

I do not think that such an electrical devise would survive being left in a car an a summer day.

Slowburn
31st October, 2012 @ 01:07 pm PDT

It does make me wonder, Slowburn. Now I really want to know. Seems like water is the key to releasing it though, not the heat. But I wonder just how much heat it can take as well.

Savin Nay Wangtal
31st October, 2012 @ 05:20 pm PDT

Wow, I think that is a great step in the right direction, if some of the non-digital tvs being discarded had this feature it would surely make them more earth friendly.

Gerard Meehan
31st October, 2012 @ 08:00 pm PDT

In the olden days one of the last iterations of vinyl records was better known as "Dynawarp" because of it's propensity to curl up with even modest heating. Also the early decades of latex paints performance was far from blemish free. However today's latex paints and varnishes match or exceed the performance and properties of almost all petrochemical solvent fluidized coatings. I am sure that these board materials will improve well and easily meet most consumer and industrial applications and, maybe, with time, many military and aerospace applications as well.

Either way, there is a reason to use two words to describe progress, :Research & Development.

StWils
1st November, 2012 @ 10:36 am PDT

As an electronics hobbyist, this system would be great, have to say at the moment I tend to be slack and not recycle many components as it just takes too long to remove them from boards and new parts are pretty cheap, but this would certainly get me recycling them more.

Mr T
1st November, 2012 @ 06:54 pm PDT

This seems like a bad idea to me. When I assemble boards here, I clean off the excess flux from the boards under hot water. It has been standard practice to use a solder with a water-soluble flux for several years....decades, even...and if you skip the cleaning step, the boards quickly corrode as the water-soluble flux is acidic. The flux is also conductive, and circuits may not function correctly.

Andromeda Quonset
9th November, 2012 @ 10:33 am PST

@AndromedaQuonset

Interesting. What's the minimum temperature of water for cleaning the flux? Hopefully it can be cold enough to not destroy the board.

Jon Rodriguez
19th November, 2012 @ 12:56 am PST
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