Paul van Gerven
29 April

TNO at Holst Centre has devised a new disassembly method that enables recycling of in-mold electronics – electronics that’s been integrated with plastics. The Eindhoven-based research institute developed a water-based layer that can be inserted between the components and outer plastic layer. Tests showed the new material allows for easy removal of the plastic without damaging the electronic circuitry, and even allowing for removing, repairing and then putting back faulty components before reapplying the plastic.

Companies are increasingly using printed forms of electronics because they can be seamlessly integrated into almost any product. Mechanical buttons and switches are not necessary – they can be printed. Electronic parts weigh less and the product has a nicer design. In addition, it’s easier and faster to produce. Applications include wearable medical sensors, car dashboards or other control panels in a variety of devices.

TNO sustainable electronics
Credit: TNO

Typically, to protect the printed electronic components and interconnects, they are fused with plastics. Unfortunately, this makes repair and recycling virtually impossible. Currently, these types of hybrid electronics end up in the shredder or incinerator. This leads to additional CO2 emissions and unnecessary loss of raw materials.

TNO’s method allows printed electronics not only to be recycled, but also to be repaired. Both will lead to cost savings and more efficient use of materials. It will also reduce waste, enable more sustainable production methods and compliance with future European Commission rules on sustainable design (ie, the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation).

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