Plastic circuits to make tougher, greener computers

Components can be disassembled after the circuit's life

Circuits in Plastic (CIP) technology may lower the carbon footprint and environmental impact of electronic products

Circuits in Plastic (CIP) technology may lower the carbon footprint and environmental impact of electronic products

Two Australian engineers are set to shake up the computer and electronics industries by discovering a way to make circuits out of plastic.

So-called “Circuits in Plastic” (CIP) technology is being developed by Professor David Thiel and MadhusudanRao Neeli at the facult of engineering and information technology at Griffith University in Brisbane.

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

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

The new concept was featured on the ABC television show <i>The New Inventors</i> 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 (CWMA) 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 makers, even with lead-free technology, etching of existing printed circuit board (PCB) 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 the weather and drink spillages.

Environmental friendliness won't come a price easier as CIP are claimed to be cheaper to produce than their PCB counterparts.

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