National Physical Laboratory

Recyclable electronics: just add hot water

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water. The work was part of the ReUSE project, funded by the UK government's Technology Strategy Board and the National Measurement Office.

Recycling this printed circuit board is as easy as making a cup of tea
Recycling this printed circuit board is as easy as
making a cup of tea - simply add hot water, and
the bonding material dissolves away leaving you
with 90% of your components to re-use as you wish

The Challenge

The electronics industry has a waste problem - currently over 100 million electronic units are discarded annually in the UK alone, making it one of the fastest growing waste streams.

It was estimated in a DTI-funded report, that around 85% of all PCB scrap board waste goes to landfill. Around 70% of this being of non-metallic content with little opportunity for recycling. This amounts to around 1 million tonnes in the UK annually equivalent to 81 x HMS Belfasts.

The Solution

The aim of the ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project was to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies, in order to avoid an ever-growing volume of waste.

The project partners designed, developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers which, while withstanding prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing, allow the assemblies to be easily separated at end-of-life into their constituent parts, after immersion in hot water.

The Impact

This revolutionary materials technology allows a staggering 90% of the original structure to be re-used. For comparison, less than 2% of traditional PCB material can be re-used.

The developed technology lends itself readily to rigid, flexible and 3D structures, which will enable the electronics industry to pursue new design philosophies - with the emphasis on using less materials and improving sustainability.

The ReUSE disassembly process is demonstrated in the video below:

Find out more about NPL's work on Electronics Interconnection

Contact: Chris Hunt

Last Updated: 13 Apr 2015
Created: 25 Oct 2012