Pasta test helps firms meet EU rule

Researchers have made a biodegradable circuit board – with an unusual method

Biodegradable circuit boards could enable the electronics industry to meet an EU recycling directive, according to UK researchers.

TWI, the materials joining body, and the British Textile Technology Group claim a biodegradable circuit board could simplify disassembly and the recovery of components.

Brian McCarthy, BTTG group executive for quality and innovation, said the directive, which has been in the pipeline for about two years, will require manufacturers to accept back certain electronic goods. These include televisions, radios, and many other white goods.

The project is the idea of TWI, which monitors laws affecting its members. It approached BTTG, which has biotechnology expertise, to devise materials to meet its needs.

The researchers illustrated the principle of biodegradable circuit boards using uncooked pasta. Pasta, they say, is stiff and strong enough to support light electrical components and conductor strips.

When such an assembly reached the end of its useful life it could be immersed in hot water, breaking down the pasta’s strength and enabling reusable parts to be easily detached. The pasta would then decompose to form the final stage of the breakdown of the product.

Pasta is not a serious candidate for the job, but materials being considered include proteins, such as casein and plant cells, and carbohydrates, including cellulosics and chitin. These can perform as well as glass/epoxy circuit boards but can be broken down by enzymes – biological catalysts – at the end of their working lives.

The materials will be tested for mechanical strength, stiffness, dimensional stability and dielectric properties. TWI is interested in developing technologies which allow electrically conductive tracks to be fixed to the biodigestible boards.

The researchers have applied for funding from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Bio-Wise scheme and are also looking for industrial partners.

* The wrong number for the National Measurement Helpline was given inTech News, 20 August. The correct number is: 020 8943 7070.

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