Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Mark Stone (University of Washington)

Have researchers created recyclable circuit boards?

Computing & Tech

Turning part of the board into jelly means other valuable components can be easily retrieved

Spotted: As we rely more heavily on technology across all aspects of our lives, e-waste generation is growing too, increasing 82 per cent between 2010 and 2022. A key component of most electronics, printed circuit boards (PCBs), are hard to separate and recycle safely, meaning they often end up in landfills where the valuable metals they contain go to waste. Now, new research from the University of Washington hopes to change that.

Scientists at the university have found a way to create PCBs that can easily – and repeatedly –be recycled. Instead of traditional plastics, which degrade each time they’re recycled, the research team has designed circuit boards using the durable and self-healing polymer vitrimer.

Using an organic solvent, the team turned the vitrimer into a jelly-like substance, making it easy to retrieve the rest of the circuit board components for reuse or recycling. The vitrimer jelly can then also be reused in new vitrimer printed circuit boards (vPCBs), which were shown to perform the same as traditional PCBs.

According to the scientists, this innovative process enabled 98 per cent of the polymer, 91 per cent of the solvent, and 100 per cent of the fibre to be recovered without degrading or damaging their performance. Overall the vPCBs were estimated to have almost half the global warming potential and produce 81 per cent less carcinogenic emissions compared with conventional PCBs.

To be used on a large scale, the researchers say new vPCBs would need to become as affordable as traditional PCBs, and new environmental policies and government incentives are required to encourage greater electronics recycling.

Springwise has spotted other ways to boost electronics circularity, including repairable earphones and using microbes to recycle e-waste.

Written By: Lauryn Berry

Email: vpcb@cs.washington.edu

Website: washington.edu

Contact: washington.edu/contact

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