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Scientists develop substitute for lead used in electronics


June 13, 2010

Electronic items such as mobile phones contain dangerous amounts of lead

Electronic items such as mobile phones contain dangerous amounts of lead

Lead is a toxic substance, and it’s in your mobile phone. It’s also probably in your TV, your computer, and just about any other electronic appliance where mechanical movement is transformed into an electrical signal. All those devices utilize PZT, a substance which contains lead, and that generates an electrical charge when subjected to pressure. While lead has been phased out of most consumer goods, a suitable alternative has never been found for use in electronics... until now, perhaps. Researchers have developed an innocuous material with PZT-like qualities, and it’s made in a fashion somewhat like cookies.

One PZT-replacement candidate that’s been around for a few years is called alkali niobate, or KNN. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to find a type of KNN that is exactly right for electronics, or that could be easily mass-produced. A new material developed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) addresses both of these shortcomings.

The researchers start by baking “microscopic ingredients" (no, they don’t say what), then roll them out and cook them into thin ceramic sheets. The structure of these sheets results in a texture that transforms mechanical pressure into electrical signals, just like PZT.

“The method we have developed kills two birds with one stone,” said project leader Tor Grande. “Not only can we adjust the process to create properties in the ceramic sheet that are precisely suited to different electronics - we can also scale up the process so that we can produce almost unlimited amounts of it.”

Grande and his team have applied for a patent, and are currently developing the material further.

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

This is the U.S. take on political correctness. Lead is not toxic. Lead oxide is toxic however. Take it out of paint by all means (especially marine paints) but electronics? Bah humbug... I believe powerful industry lobby groups have pushes this remove all lead idea for their own purposes. Lead has some very special qualities, maleability, mass, and its use as a shield in nuclear applications.


Perhaps bArt should examine the last 5 centuries of evidence about lead poisoning, he may be silent after that!

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