With water, TNO and its Holst Center recycle printed electronics

With water, TNO and its Holst Center recycle printed electronics
With water, TNO and its Holst Center recycle printed electronics

Certainly, electronics integrated into plastics are gaining popularity, whether in automobile parts, consumer electronic devices or those for the medical sector, because of their lightness, their aesthetics and their profitability. However, for printed electronics, the question of recycling and repair arises. Via its Holst Center, the Dutch R&D organization TNO offers a unique dismantling solution. At the end of the product’s life, it detaches the electronic components from the support, thus limiting CO emissions.2e-waste and manufacturer spending.

The progress is notable, especially considering the size of the printed electronics market which, between 2022 and 2032, will increase from $175 million to more than $3 billion. Since electronic components and printed metals are fused with plastics to protect electrical circuits, today, only the crusher and the incinerator are used when the products reach the end of their life: enough to generate CO emissions2 and a loss of burned raw materials, especially since only a fifth of all electronic waste in the world is carefully recycled, recalls the Dutch organization. Furthermore, it states that the quantity of electronic waste is expected to increase from 74.7 million tonnes in 2030 to 110 million tonnes by 2050.

TNO has developed a special water-based layer, applied between the circuit containing the components and the outer plastic layer of the electronic device. Result: the layer would prove strong enough to withstand a humidity level of up to 85% for 1000 hours and a temperature of 85°C, while being flexible enough to remove the plastic without damaging the electronic circuits. During the tests, in the event of a product defect, they were dismantled and repaired; subsequently, the electronics worked after the device was covered with plastic again.

In addition to the possible repair and recycling of printed electronic components, TNO ensures that the process allows design errors to be repaired during production, leading to cost savings and more efficient use of materials. Finally, this will make it possible to market new products already in line with the European Commission’s future rules on sustainable design.

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