Circular and Sustainable Electronics
Driven by the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, which has identified the issue of electronic waste growing significantly and the challenges of recycling/reusing electronic components, the Centre is currently researching new possibilities in sustainable and recyclable printed electronic devices. Collaborating with Professor Steve Beeby (RAEng Chair in Emerging Technologies[i]), this is looking to reduce the environmental impact of electronic waste, addressing the lifecycle from manufacture to end-of-life, including flexible electronic devices integrated into textiles.
Researchers from environmental science and waste management are considering the environmental costs of manufacture and recycling of electronic components and systems, and identifying hotspots where interventions can yield the greatest benefit. For example, the average integrated circuit today contains 61 different elements. Short product lifecycles have led to vast quantities of relatively new electrical and electronic components being discarded. By investigating reusable blocks fabricated and used over longer timeframes, the impact of electronics manufacture can be reduced.
Researchers are also investigating new approaches to move away from the ‘scrap material’ approach to electronic circuit recycling, where printed circuit boards (PCBs) are smelted down to recover metals. Innovations such as paper-based and dissolvable substrates for PCBs are being exploited, to enable simplified recovery of individual electronic components during the recycling process. The performance of inks used in printed circuit manufacture are also being considered, alongside the cost and logistics of disassembly of systems, and implications of existing regulatory requirements (for example fire retardance).