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European Research Initiative Targets Sustainable Printed Electronics

Article-European Research Initiative Targets Sustainable Printed Electronics

Ladislav Kubeš/iStock via Getty Images printed electronics on flexible sheet
The Reform project aims to develop metal-free electronic components from bio-derived adhesives, conductive inks, and flexible substrates.

An EU-funded project spearheaded by Spanish R&D institute Ciditec aims to develop metal-free electronic components from bio-derived adhesives, conductive inks, and flexible substrates, thereby reducing the dependency on finite resources such as scarce metals and unsustainable materials used to build conductive circuits in electronic devices. Besides electrical and electronic consumer products, such devices are used widely in the automotive industry in sensors and control components,

Another Spanish R&D institute Aimplas is also participating in the Reform project that will focus on the development of printed green electronics that will accelerate and guide the creation of a new European functional electronics supply chain.

Substantial cumulative environmental impact

Although individual electronic devices contain limited amounts of critical materials, they are produced on a vast scale, meaning that the cumulative environmental impact of e-waste is substantial, particularly if components are embedded in ways that make recycling extremely difficult or uneconomic. Devices that are not recycled or disposed of correctly can often be found in landfill sites, where all sorts of dangerous toxins and carcinogenic substances, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, leach into the surrounding soil.

The Reform project seeks to develop environmentally sustainable printed electronics by harnessing organic conductive inks and biodegradable or recyclable materials. Specifically, the project will develop three prototypes — a green smart logistics tag, green embedded wireless sensor, and micro supercapacitor.

Design for recycling

Reform will employ eco-design principles to produce green printable electronics that meet the demands of multiple industries and sectors so that e-waste ceases to be a problem in the future. To achieve this goal, the project brings together world-leading academics, non-profit research organizations, industry experts, and innovative businesses from eight different European countries.

Aimplas will contribute its experience in the recyclability of the materials and products developed in the project. More concretely, Aimplas will develop a pathway to achieve an effective sorting of printed electronics, and a new innovative method for the recovery of metals that contain these products. After the sorting and metal recovery, Aimplas will test which recycling method is best for printed electronics recycling, including chemical and mechanical recycling tests.

Reform is a 42-month project and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program.

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