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Scientists turn PCBs into jelly for better recycling

Scientists turn PCBs into jelly for better recycling
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Scientists from the University of Washington have invented new circuit boards that could significantly reduce the amount of electronic waste. These boards partially turn into a gel that can be easily recycled.

Among other components, circuit boards usually have a non-conductive layer that serves as a substrate for electronic components. It consists of two ingredients: fiberglass and epoxy resin, which are very difficult to separate from each other. This layer is not easy to recycle, sometimes it is burned, but this process is environmentally friendly and can also damage electronic components.

Scientists replaced the resin with a polymer known as vitrimer. While the circuit board is in use, it remains strong, rigid, and non-conductive, allowing the substrate to function just as effectively.

After such a vPCB (vitrimer printed circuit board) reaches the end of its life, it is immersed in an organic solvent with a relatively low boiling point. When this solvent boils, the vitrimer swells and becomes gel-like.

All other elements that remain undamaged can be easily separated for reuse. Laboratory experiments have shown that 98% of the vitrimer itself can be reused along with 91% of the solvent.

Such boards can be produced at existing facilities and can be recycled over and over again. According to scientists' estimates, the use of recycled vPCBs could lead to a 48% reduction in global warming impact and an 81% reduction in carcinogenic emissions compared to traditional boards. The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

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