new techniques to fight e-waste


O Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing toxic waste in recent years. Now, researchers from the University of Coimbra (UC) have developed and tested a set of new techniques that allow us to reverse this reality and apply the 3R’s policy (reduce, reuse and recycle) in the electronics area. The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The research, funded under the WoW projects of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program (CMU Portugal), Dermotronics and SMART Display, represents a new step in the fight against technological pollution. Currently, the production of electronic waste has reached an alarming level of 7 kg/person/year. Only 20% of electronic waste is sent for recycling, and only a small percentage of precious metals, mainly gold, is recovered.

Despite the urgency to find solutions and new forms of production, Mahmoud Tavakoli, first author of the scientific article, explains that the effective application of the 3R’s to electronics is only possible «if we can demonstrate new manufacturing techniques that, on the one hand, depend on materials resilient, repairable and recyclable and, on the other hand, can compete with existing techniques in terms of pattern resolution, multi-layer implementation, microchip integration and autonomous manufacturing”.

This research, which is underway at the Institute of Systems and Robotics (ISR) of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (DEEC) of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), introduces a new architecture for a scalable production, standalone and high resolution 3R electronic devices.
In particular, scientists have introduced a new architecture for soft materials such as conductive composites and substrates that satisfy 3R goals; have developed autonomous manufacturing techniques, including high-resolution digital patterns and single-step microchip welding, as well as supporting technologies for the recycling of materials and components.

According to the researcher at the ISR and professor at FCTUC, another differentiating factor in this manufacturing process is that it is carried out at room temperature, an essential step for green electronics: «everything is done at room temperature, including the deposition, standardization and soldering of the microchips. Eliminating the temperature of the sintering process (as is common in printed electronics) and the soldering process considerably reduces energy consumption”.

This research presents a paradigm shift and provides the foundation for the next generation of recyclable electronic devices. However, the techniques developed still require further technological development «to reach the same maturity as the current printed circuit technology, that is, they lack the necessary maturity, including the desired standardization resolution and the appropriate level of automation, for industrial applications. », concludes Mahmoud Tavakoli.

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