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A new approach to PCB recycling

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Institute of Circuit Technology: A New Approach to PCB Recycling

A two-year project funded by an Innovate UK SMART grant aims to reduce the impact of e-waste by using naturally occurring, biodegradable and non-toxic products. Attendees of the Institute of Circuit Technology’s annual meeting webinar on March 2 learned more about the project, as well as the legal paperwork requirements under the UK’s REACH regulations.

Following the formal proceedings, ICT President Emma Hudson presented and moderated this technical webinar, which provided a final update on the progress of the ReCollect project and discussed the legislative implications of the UK REACH regulations.

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ReCollect (Efficient Manufacturing of Recyclable Composite Laminates for Electrical Goods) was a 30-month project funded by the Innovate UK SMART Grant program and led by Jiva Materials, in partnership with Coventive Composites. The ReCollect project aims to reduce the impact of the e-waste stream by using naturally occurring, biodegradable and non-toxic products.

Proposed as an alternative way to manage end-of-life circuit boards, the project focuses on eliminating fiberglass and epoxy resin from the supply chain through the use of a new recyclable laminate technology known as “Soluboard”, based on woven natural fibers. reinforcement and a polymer soluble in hot water. At the end of its life, this material can be recycled simply by immersing it in almost boiling water, causing the polymer to dissolve, allowing the fibrous reinforcement to be easily separated for reprocessing or composting, and to recover the electronic components and circuits. intact.

The main objective was to demonstrate the feasibility of producing a PCB substrate in large volumes with performance comparable to CEM-1 and FR-4 in the UK. The secondary goal was to ensure that this substrate was compatible with existing aqueous etching and plating processes used in PCB fabrication. ICT ensured dissemination and feedback from industry. The project is now complete and Jack Herring, Managing Director of Jiva Materials, gave a meaningful summary of what has been achieved.

Herring described the initial target market as basic PCBs in domestic equipment, the waste of which constituted 32% of WEEE. Products included PC peripherals, power circuits and LED lighting. He reminded the audience that the WEEE Directive placed the responsibility for waste recovery on the product manufacturer and that Soluboard PCBs could be removed for recycling from products recovered through WEEE take-back schemes.

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Considering the carbon savings, he said the carbon footprint of one square meter of Soluboard is equivalent to 7.1 kg of CO2against 17.7 kg for a similar square meter of FR-4, representing a 60% reduction. And Soluboard’s plastic saving compared to FR-4 is 620 grams per square meter. A retail price equivalent to FR-4 can be achieved, and the material can be supplied as a copper clad laminate for PCB manufacturing or an uncoated laminate for printed electronics applications.

Soluboard has been shown to be compatible with industry standard wet processes for PCB manufacturing. It is directly drilled and routed, and PCB assemblies can be successfully soldered with low temperature alloys. Herring showed examples of power supply boards produced by print and etch technology, with a heat-cured solder resist. Another example was panels for LED lighting, designed to achieve required levels of reflectivity. In a printed electronics context, uncoated Soluboard has been used to produce boards for Arduino microcontrollers using industry standard functional silver inks.

Preliminary technical data sheets had been prepared with a complete list of mechanical and electrical properties. The material has a flammability rating equivalent to UL94V-0 and should be officially recognized shortly.

Look forward
Herring discussed future plans. The initial target market was basic PCBs – single and double-sided without plated through holes – and this technological level had been achieved through the Innovate-funded ReCollect project. In the future, it is intended to handle multi-layered applications. One exciting prospect is Dell Technologies’ Concept Luna, in which Dell explores ways to reduce the carbon footprint of its products to make them reusable and repairable before ultimately recycling materials and components. Dell has shown some interest in “a new bio-based circuit board made with flax fibers in the base and a water-soluble polymer as the glue,” Herring said, and Jiva is looking forward to becoming a collaborator on the project.

In terms of substrate development, the first version of Soluboard had a relatively coarse weave hessian backing. A finer weave fabric provided improved electrical properties and would form the basis of a second generation laminate. The solubility of the resin component clearly presented some hurdles to overcome when aqueous chemistries plated through the holes were encountered, and this was another area of ​​development to address once additional funding was secured. Another topic of interest was in-mold electronics, where the thermoplastic properties of Soluboard make it a suitable choice, and efficient recycling equipment to process recovered Soluboard from take-back systems will be developed.

A systematic approach to regulation
Continuing on the topic of chemical awareness and the exciting world of legislation, Colin Martin, Senior Partner at ParaChem Consulting Chemists, reminded us of our statutory responsibilities under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations. .

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REACH was created in 2007 as a European chemicals regulation aimed at improving the protection of human health and the environment by identifying the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. The UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020 (“BREXIT”), so the EU REACH regulations were no longer legally binding. They were replaced by UK REACH, a new legal requirement to disclose information about the composition of manufactured ‘articles’, and requests for disclosure would still go up the supply chain of all EU companies.

The UK department responsible for REACH is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which conducted a survey to establish the status of UK industry with respect to REACH compliance. She concluded that manufacturers misunderstood REACH and its obligations. Most of the industry was unaware of the regulations or their implications, even though failure to comply with disclosure obligations was in fact a criminal offence. Having published the results of its investigation, DEFRA is now taking an active stance on REACH, and its regulations will be enforced.

What happens next? Martin set out to unravel the complexities of procedures and present a systematic approach to compliance. He pointed out that although it involves a commitment of resources, it should not be overwhelming if the exercise is approached methodically. There is a need to build a database providing data on “substances of very high concern” (SVHC) in manufactured items. The database shall include inventories of all manufacturing consumables and all manufactured or purchased items, with the SVHCs identified and their mass percentages calculated. The minimum information to be provided to the consumer is the name of the SVHC, and this must be provided within 45 days. Specialized proprietary software is available to facilitate database management.

Martin gave an example listing of all consumables and their compositions, then looked specifically at the individual components of a particular product, with the composition of a fictional proprietary solder mask used for illustration. The concentration of each of these consumables in the product was determined. Likewise, its item inventory listed all of the ingredients that go into making each item and their weight percentages.

Once all of this data collection was complete, she provided a resource from which five categories of formal reports could be prepared: UK SVHCs at concentrations greater than 0.1% contained in individual articles, similar for EU SVHCs, customer reports of UK SVHCs in articles, similar for EU SVHCs, and a report from the European Chemicals Agency if more than 1000 kg of all SVHCs were processed within one year.

As someone who has had a career mastering the technical aspects of printed circuit board manufacturing, I have been reminded that legal paperwork obligations extend far beyond routine production and quality assurance documentation.