Circuit boards that dissolve in hot water for full recycling ...
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Circuit boards that dissolve in hot water for full recycling ...

Jul 09, 2023

“We have just raised £1m back in July to keep us going on our journey,” said Jonathan Swanston, CEO and co-founder of Jiva Materials tells eeNews Europe. “We now have plenty of proof of concepts and we have single and double sided through hole boards so we can address the commodity PCB market which is significant,” he said.

The Soluboard material is now being used commercially by Infineon Technologies for evaluation boards with power devices, and Jiva has other designs for lighting, peripherals and controller boards. The company, based in Waterlooville in Hampshire, is now working on a new formulation for multilayer boards.

The technology arose from an unexpected direction.

“Jack Herring was doing a design MA at the Royal College of Art and he was working on the recycling of electronics. He replaced the glass fibre with natural fibre and an epoxy resin that dissolves in hot water,” said Swanston.

When the board dissolves in the water, it releases the metals used for the signal tracks and the components, leaving purely compostable materials. Infineon is now investigating how it can recover and even re-use those devices.

“We initially raised £850,000 to patent and grow the team in 2019 and won the Postcode Lottery Green Prize and that took us through Covid. Our first project was with Microsoft Recyclable computer mouse in a tale of two mice.”

Microsoft has used the Soluboard PCB

“We have a patent on the Soluboard material in the UK, India, Taiwan, Japan, and in the final stages in Europe and US. The recent raise allows us to commercialise and move to multi layer boards,” said Swanston. This round was led by Katapult VC and Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 and supported by Sorbon Investments, Armstrong Capital Management and Moonstone.

“We have now lined up contract manufacturers with one France and one Hungary one in the UK. We have been making material in France as if there is spare capacity in the world you use that, you don’t invest in that yourself. We are currently trialling in Hungary and UK.”

The supply chain crunch has helped bring business back to Europe.

“A lot of the big corporates are reshoring their manufacturing and our route to market is via the ESD directors in big corporates and we want to be designed into a product that is made locally.”

“We have been making circuit boards with third parties to show that it can be done with the equivalent flammability, mechanical and electrical properties to FR4. There’s a huge amount of infrastructure for processing PCBs around the world and we have shown that you can process the boards through existing infrastructure.”

Swanston points to research by UNU that 15.5% of e-waste is being handled correctly via national programs and schemes. Using Soluboard avoids e-waste being incinerated or dumped in landfill, both of which are highly hazardous to health and the environment.

The carbon footprint of one square metre of Soluboard PCB is estimated to be 7.1kg, compared to 17.7kg for one square metre of standard FR4 PCB. There is also a significant plastic saving of 620g per square metre of Soluboard compared to FR4.

This comes from the lower density of 1.35g per cubic centimetre of Soluboard compared to 2g per cubic centimetre of FR4 which leads to a difference in mass of almost 1kg per square metre. This difference in mass greatly reduces the carbon and plastic impacts of Soluboard compared to the lifecycle of an FR4 PCB.

However the material does have different properties that impact on the production process.

“It’s around temperature as its thermoplastic rather than thermoset which brings advantages in lower carbon footprint, so we are assembling our boards with low temperature solder.”

“We are reformulating for a V2 Soluboard for multilayer market and that’s really about the plated through hole performance, At the moment we can protect the board from etching but then it is drilled and then plated which exposes our material. We have a way around that for the current boards but we are reformulating to give us more dimensional stability. We have done prototypes but we are not looking to address that market until 2025,” he said.