German semiconductor maker Infineon Technologies AG announced that it’s producing a printed circuit board (PCB) that dissolves in water. Sourced from UK startup Jiva Materials, the plant-based Soluboard could provide a new avenue for the tech industry to reduce e-waste as companies scramble to meet climate goals by 2030.
Jiva’s biodegradable PCB is made from natural fibers and a halogen-free polymer with a much lower carbon footprint than traditional boards made with fiberglass composites. A 2022 study by the University of Washington College of Engineering and Microsoft Research saw the team create an Earth-friendly mouse using a Soluboard PCB as its core. The researchers found that the Soluboard dissolved in hot water in under six minutes. However, it can take several hours to break down at room temperature.
In addition to dissolving the PCB fibers, the process makes it easier to retrieve the valuable metals attached to it. “After [it dissolves], we’re left with the chips and circuit traces which we can filter out,” said UW assistant professor Vikram Iyer, who worked on the mouse project.
The video below shows the Soluboard dissolving in a frying pan with boiling water:
♻️ We are adopting Soluboard®, a #recyclable & #biodegradable printed circuit board substrate based on natural fibers. It was designed by @JivaMaterials & the #organic structure allows the components of devices to dissolve when immersed in hot water. More: https://t.co/3yLMC5cuGh pic.twitter.com/mnWjPbSok7
— Infineon (@Infineon) July 28, 2023
“Adopting a water-based recycling process could lead to higher yields in the recovery of valuable metals,” said Jonathan Swanston, CEO and co-founder of Jiva Materials. Jiva says the board has a 60 percent smaller carbon footprint than traditional PCBs — specifically, it can save 10.5 kg of carbon and 620 g of plastic per square meter of PCB.
Infineon has produced three different circuit board prototypes using the Soluboard framework. The company is currently only using the dissolvable PCB for demo and evaluation boards, and it says around 500 units are now in use. However, it’s “exploring the possibility of using the material for all boards” with an eye on expanding adoption over the next few years. Based on the results of stress tests, it also plans to “provide guidance on the reuse and recycling of power semiconductors removed from Soluboards” to lessen the chances of the salvageable parts from future production models going to waste.