Circuit Board Recycling: Just Add Water

by | Oct 31, 2012

The National Physical Laboratory, with partners In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials, developed a printed circuit board whose components can be easily disassembled by immersing them in hot water.

The technology developed by the team can be used to create rigid, flexible 3D structures, which would allow the electronics industry to pursue new designs that use less materials and improve sustainability, the NPL said.

The UK government-funded work was part of the Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics (ReUse) project, which aims to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies.

The partners designed, developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers, which were able to withstand prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing. The assemblies were easily separated at end-of-life into their constituent parts once they were emerged in hot water, the NPL said.

The material technology developed by the team allowed 90 percent of the original structure to be re-used. In comparison, less than two percent of material from traditional printed circuit boards can be re-used.

E-waste has become a mounting problem throughout the world. More than 100 million electronics units are discarded in the UK each year and about 85 percent of all printed circuit board scrap ends up in landfills, the NPL said.

The US generates nearly 2.5 million tons of electronics waste per year and that number is projected to grow, the EPA has said.

However, consumer awareness of electronics recycling and locations is on the rise, according to studies released in September by the Consumer Electronics Association. The CE Recycling and Reuse 2012 Edition study found nine in 10 consumers believe it’s important to recycle their consumer electronics devices and 63 percent of consumers know where to recycle them.

 Photo: NPL video

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