Partner Series
Drowning In Devices? Your Next Gadget May Dissolve When You're Done
The UK’s National Physical Laboratory has developed a printed circuit board made of ‘unzippable polymeric layers’ that comes apart in hot water.
Credit: Today's Green Minute

Waste not thy future gadgets. That may soon become the 11th Commandment.

Phones, tablets and computers continue to be introduced at a dizzying rate. With each new introduction, a previous version becomes obsolete, and "electronic waste" becomes more and more prevalent. The more materials that can be recycled from the discarded devices, the better. 

The United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has come up with a printed circuit board that falls apart when immersed in hot water. The organization has developed circuit boards made out of what they're calling "unzippable polymeric layers" built to withstand the heat stressing and long-term thermal cycling. The layers easily come apart, however, when they come into contact with water of sufficient temperature for several seconds. 

The resistors, capacitors and integrated circuits, which don't have to be changed or adapted from their current formats in any way, are mounted on the boards. But after the contact with hot water, they can simply be scraped off, ready to be harvested and reused in other devices.

The NPL says the technology can be applied to three-dimensional structures and flexible electronics as well as rigid circuit boards. Lab tests showed that 90 percent of the components can be reused, compared with the 2 percent that can be salvaged from current boards. 

The NPL project was undertaken as part of Britain's ReUSE project, which stands for "Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics."