back to article Infineon to offer recyclable circuit boards that dissolve in water

Infineon Technologies will using recyclable printed circuit boards (PCBs) based on a material developed by a UK startup in upcoming demo boards. The technology is claimed to be more environmentally friendly and to reduce the carbon footprint of the electronics industry. Germany's largest semiconductor maker said it is …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

    Yes, but that is only because you are not paying for the environmental cost of the trash you generate.

    As a society, we are going to have to stop with this habit of plundering the Earth and not caring about the consequences. It costs less to go mine metals and minerals rather than recover the ones we've already mined ? Simple solution : once we've tallied the costs of dealing with global warming, air purification and noxious metals seeping from landfills into the water table, then just split those costs among those who produce the stuff that is not recycled and we'll see how cheaper it is to go mine.

    Now get off my lawn.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

      Haven't you heard? Nature has no price. It is free for all (who are wealthy and powerful) and there to take. Earth was created to support us puny humans and make (few of) us rich in the process. The do-good-ers are only tolerated to legitimize our divine path and wash our collective hands in innocence and ignorance.

      /s if that wasn't clear, but unfortunately, too much truth and reality is in the statement

      1. david1024

        Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

        This is pretty much the definition case for tragedy of the commons.

        It is what humans do, and we will continue to do it, even if folks try to pass laws, until we physically cannot do it anymore. We consume and destroy what we touch. Many of the oldest books we have are about it and we fight wars about it too.

        If the processes kill more people, well, we are just not going to live as long anymore so we can have our fancy pocket light boxes of doom.

    2. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

      Hence why those who have a clue advocate for taxes on such things - e.g. to deal with CO2 emissions by way of a carbon tax, reduce plastic packaging by a tax on the weight of plastic use, and so on. These are generally relatively easy to apply, and put a value on the externalities which then feeds into market forces. So no need to legislate on the minutia or impose specific solutions, just apply a tax and let the market work out the most efficient way of adjusting.

      Example: going back some years, there was a lot of R&D going on into engine technology - specifically lean-burn. OK, there were some issues (NOx) still to be resolved, but then TPTB mandated a specific solution in the form of catalytic converters. As cats don't work with lean burn, that killed off that line of R&D, and at the same time worsened fuel consumption - not to mention, a good chunk of the data on the effectiveness of cats came from the US where climate and usage is different (many more longer trips). The correct way would have been to mandate limits on emissions without specifying how to achieve them - then the different technologies could be evaluated and the most effective would have won. Cats could have been the answer, or they might not, or there might have been more than one commonly used solution if there were two (or more) with similar costs/benefits.

      So I guess that's why we so often see governments imposing solutions instead of imposing a required outcome ! Neither electricity nor hydrogen are ideal alternatives to liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Had the governments simply imposed an outcome (x% reduction in overall CO2 emissions) then we'd probably be much further along than we are - when you are facing an impending ban on liquid fuel engines, it's hard to justify investment in developing net CO2 neutral liquid fuels. And if we had gone (largely) down the liquid fuel route, we already have the infrastructure and services to handle it : I can go onto any forecourt in the country, fill up at an effectively energy transfer rate measured in megawatts, and pay with my general purpose credit/debit cars; instead of needing a different app for the different public chargers, which all have limited charge rates (especially where the local lecky infrastructure isn't good), and that's if the chargers are working at all.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

        cats and fuel:air ratio legislation in the USA is a classic example of regulatory capture by entrenched interests

        US Domestic makers couldn't compete with Japanese ones on fuel economy and the Japanese were bringing newer (more expensive) cats to market which tackled the NOX issues from lean burn systems.

        By mandating 3-way cats and a stociometric fuel ratio, domestic makers weren't at nearly as much of a disadvantage on fuel consumption and they didn't have to spend money to pursue more efficient engine technology (This is also the reason why the USA domestic car industry pushed light trucks, truck-based vans and SUVs so hard during the 1970s-2000s - they weren't subject to strict emissions and crash safety controls, whilst the 25% import tariff on them (2% on cars) made the profits even sweeter in their captive domestic market)

        The lawmakers were _extremely_ heavily lobbied (bribed) by Detroit to get legislation placed which claimed to be doing one thing, but whose goal was entirely different (protectionism)

      2. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

        Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

        No matter what you religion tells you CO2 is not a pollutant and is NOT warming the planet!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

          How stupid ARE you?

          Just because you're too stupid to understand it doesn't mean it isn't happening.

          Oh, and in other news, 5G won't hurt you, neither will vaccines, and the earth is neither flat nor only 6000 years old.

      3. may_i

        Re: “The collection and recovery process cost itself could be multiple times the component costs”

        Your suggestion is confused and naive. It assumes that those who make the decisions to impose such taxes are:

        1) Utterly unbiased.

        2) Totally objective.

        3) Perfectly informed.

        Having any of these qualities is rare in any person and the chances of any politician having all three has a probability so close to zero that it may as well be stated as zero.

        The entire underlying premise is the kind of wishful thinking only heard from deluded green activists. You can't "impose an outcome" by applying taxes without any idea of how that outcome would be achieved.

  2. nematoad Silver badge

    "But Omdia Principal Analyst Manoj Sukumaran was more dismissive..."

    Hmm, I smell special pleading here. It would be interesting to see who is pulling his strings.

    As Pascal Monett says above, what price Earth's future?

    We cannot go on like this and any possible solution, pun intended, is to be welcomed.

  3. Andy Non Silver badge

    High humidity environments?

    90C in boiling water OK, but what about long term exposure to high humidity levels in hot sticky climates?

    1. Aitor 1

      Re: High humidity environments?

      My experience with this type of materials is that they are very unstable.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: High humidity environments?

      or even non-hot-sticky climates over a 20-30 year lifespan

      There are shades of Mercedes soy-based wiring loom insulation here. Rodents LOVED it

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: High humidity environments?

      My engineering spidey sense is tingling...and not in a good way.

      I'm currently working on a project where PCB temps can reach 70C without too much trouble. And a moist environment is a given. This does not bode well for the technology being discussed.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: High humidity environments?

        "This does not bode well for the technology being discussed."

        At a temps approaching 70C and high humidity, you're probably already outside the recommend operating parameters for many electronic circuit boards and/or devices and into "special environment" areas. So these boards would probably not be suitable for your application, same as they will not be suitable in some other applications, eg rigid, not flexible (although they didn't define what they mean by rigid. I remember circuit boards being pretty damned brittle and any flexion could be enough to break tracks where as, for example, modern PC/laptop system boards allow for a few degrees of flex, indeed is often required to fit some laptop boards into the case.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ground and power planes

    If this ever goes multi layer, there could be trouble getting hot water to the layers between the power and ground plane layers.These are generally almost solid copper layers leaving mostly just the edges for the hot water to work its way into. I'm sure it'll still work, but it could take a long time. Making the power and ground a grid could sort it out, but would raise the impedance of the layers. It also means etching more copper off the boards, increasing the chemical costs.

  5. steelpillow Silver badge

    Springing a leak

    Water-cooled server farms, anybody? Gives meltdown a whole new meaning at the service desk...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Springing a leak

      And don't splli coffee over the keyboard.

    2. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Springing a leak

      “Do you rent your server farm by the rack, by the core count, or by CPU time?”

      “Err, since an unfortunate incident last month when the fire sprinklers discharged while our servers were under load… we rent them by the gallon. ‘Cloud Compute Bucket’ is not a metaphor.”

  6. TRT Silver badge

    I was going to say this is ridiculous but...

    It actually seems quite a good idea. It would take time to prove, I think, and obviously there are going to be snags and non-use cases. But hm.... interesting.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: I was going to say this is ridiculous but...

      Several posters above make good points about humidity and the passage of years, but if they used a solvent that isn't a normal part of the atmosphere then the idea might have legs.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I was going to say this is ridiculous but...

        I have visions of the early unleaded solder concoctions and unexpected long-term whicker growth, which over time seems to have been mainly solved now. As others have said, try it out where the use cases match which brings experience, development and bulk production pricing.

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    As long as I can still wash the flux residue off...

    Though I wonder how it behaves close to too-hot components. I'm assuming they've checked it for flammability issues, but I've seen an awful lot of circuit boards with the epoxy burned out of the fibreglass where high power resistors or transistors have got hotter than the designer anticipated.

  8. Richard 12 Silver badge

    90C for 30 minutes

    But how long in damp air at, say 20C?

    Degrading isn't a cliff edge. They'll fall apart at RTP too, it just takes longer.

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      Re: 90C for 30 minutes

      Indeed and I've got Switchzilla kit that runs normally at an internal temp of 60+ degrees, touching 80C sometimes. Also what's the ignition temp of the fibre substrate?

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    a non-toxic polymer that dissolves when immersed in hot water

    Best not use it in keyboards then (see icon).

  10. Frogmelon

    Lets set up a fab in Munchkinland

    "You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting!"

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Electical characteristics too

    "“Other important PCB characteristics include the ability to dissipate heat, fire resistance and mechanical stability (it should not break easily). To what extent a water soluble material can offer these features is questionable,”"

    The most important characteristic that's omitted from this list is electrical leakage. Given that almost all digital circuitry (and quite a lot of analogue) is now high impedance, water absorption from the atmosphere into the substrate could create leakage sufficient to degrade performance or even kill functionality, and at high voltages (over 25V) it also increases safe inter-track spacing significantly. One reason we replaced the SRBP (Veroboard type) substrates of the '60s and '60s with epoxy glass (FR4) was just this problem.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Electical characteristics too

      Perhaps it could replace the paper-epoxy PCB materials.

      That stuff fails after a few years already, so maybe this would be no worse.

  12. david willis

    Tea or Coffee Incidents ?

    I'll say no more..

  13. spold Silver badge


    1. Is it vegan? ;-)

    2. Mould.

    3. You drop that phone in the toilet it ain't coming back - OK no change there.

    4. iDissolved. More tea vicar?

  14. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Round and round

    PCB boards were originally Bakelite and biodegradable. They crack easily, rot in moisture, don't conduct heat, and can't handle the heat needed for durable solders.

    If I understand the tech correctly, the really toxic part in any PCB is the halogen flame retardant. Just stop adding it.

    There's not much in fiberglass that can burn.

  15. david 12 Silver badge


    Our product has a 40 year expected life at 90C. I don't expect us to replace the boards with low-temperature boards. But my house if full of small crap with small battery-operated single-or-double sided circuit boards, that fail anyway after a couple of years, or when dropped or stood on, or are simply discarded.

    In a country like Germany, where there has to be a disposal process for Wireless Headphones, this absolutely makes sense.

    By the way, there isn't anything technically new about this product: paper phenolic boards predate glass-phenolic, and there have always been water-soluble phenolics.

  16. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    Add this

    to the latest trend in immersive cooling, and a night after a chiller failure means no computers/servers at all. Just some sludge at the bottom of the case.

  17. Martin-73 Silver badge



  18. Kurgan

    More planned obsolescence

    So we will be absolutely sure our electronics will fail after only a few years, no exception. More planned obsolescence, more money for the industry, everyone's happy. (NOT)

  19. Sudosu Bronze badge

    No more computer showers

    Guess I will no longer be able to clean my computers with hot water in the shower once this tech is widespread. (No, I don't shower with least not until the AI advances a lot)

    Did all my machines after a nearby construction project filled them all with 1/8" of concrete dust while I was away for an extended period. I was surprised they were still working as they were grey inside.

    I pulled the CMOS battery first (most were dead anyway) and let them dry for a week after the wash and they still work fine a year later.

    In fact some of the dead case fans started working again so I gave them some 3-in-1.

    They were old machines and it was either wash or replace them with new ones...I'm a cheap bastard who hates to throw things away so I went with he first option.

  20. VicMortimer

    What an incredibly stupid way to deal with the problem

    The stupid, it burns! (or melts, whatever)

    Instead of taking advantage of the end of Moore's Law and building more durable and longer lasting hardware, this is a not-so-concealed way to continue planned obsolescence.

    We're at the point where building computers with a design lifespan of 20+ years is not unreasonable. This is just another way to keep the destructive "oooh, shiny" cycle going.

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