Plastic circuits touted as cheaper, greener option

Australian researchers say it's possible and desirable

Two Australian engineers are set to shake up the computer and electronics industries, having developed technology to make circuits out of plastic.

The Circuits in Plastic (CIP) technology was created by Professor David Thiel and Madhusudan Rao Neeli, at the faculty of engineering and information technology at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

CIP technology is more environmentally friendly than traditional circuits, as the circuits can be made from recycled plastic and don't contain any hazardous substances. As well, since packaging is part of the base circuit board there is no need for additional packaging material.

Different 3D-shaped circuits can be made using CIP that are also waterproof.

The new concept was featured on an Australian television show The New Inventors where a working circuit was demonstrated.

"The circuit board is a plastic sheet in which all components are placed in divots," Thiel said. "The conductor is screen-printed into a thin cover sheet, which is then thermally bonded to the circuit board."

Thiel heads the Centre for Wireless Monitoring and Applications at Griffith and teaches electromagnetics, practical electronics, mathematics and research methods.

According to its designers, the CIP technology can be applied to a wide range of circuits "from simple to complex", in terms of design and functionality.

"The beauty of the technology is you can use recycled and biodegradable plastics," he said. "At the end of the circuit's life the components are mechanically disassembled and recycled, which means a lower carbon footprint compared with the shredding and incineration of traditional circuits."

The engineers hope the technology becomes the "circuit breaker" to reduce the amount of toxic electronic waste in landfill. According to the CIP inventors, even with lead-free technology, etching of existing printed circuit board technology and disposal of the chemicals is a significant issue during manufacturing.

"And less chemicals in the process means less toxic waste entering the environment," Neeli said.

As plastic circuits are waterproof, one popular application would be a mobile phone resistant to wet weather and drink spillages.

Environmental friendliness won't come at a price, as the plastic circuits are said to be cheaper to produce than their printed circuit board counterparts.

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