Infineon Leverages Recycled PCB Material for Eval and Demo Boards
The company hopes to decrease its carbon footprint with a biodegradable FR-4 alternative.
An unfortunate truth about the electronics industry is that it has a significant carbon footprint. The electronic waste (e-waste) epidemic results in millions of tons of discarded PCBs, cables, and components entering landfills every year, almost all of which are not biodegradable.
What if there were a way to create electronics that function well and break down cleanly? This is exactly what startup Jiva Materials is pursuing with its Soluboard FR-4 biodegradable material. Recently, Infineon announced that it intends to use Soluboard in select evaluation and demo boards moving forward.
Infineon plans to use Soluboard’s plant-based PCB material. Developed from natural fibers, Soluboard is said to have a significantly lower carbon footprint than traditional glass-based fibers. Image used courtesy of Infineon
What Is FR-4?
Flame Retardant 4, or FR-4, is a standard material used to construct printed circuit boards (PCBs). The composite material is made of woven fiberglass cloth impregnated with a flame-resistant epoxy resin binder and is a fundamental aspect of almost any PCB.
FR-4 typically forms the substrate or base layer upon which the various electronic components are mounted in a PCB. The fiberglass cloth provides a stable and rigid platform, while the epoxy resin helps to adhere the components to the board. Conductive pathways, or traces, are then etched or printed onto the FR-4, connecting the components and allowing electrical signals to flow between them.
Example of a four-layer PCB stackup. Image used courtesy of San Francisco Circuits
FR-4 is widely used in PCBs thanks to material properties that make it useful for electronic applications. These include thermal stability, which allows it to withstand high temperatures, mechanical strength, which adds durability to a PCB, and electrical insulation, which helps separate conductive parts of a circuit and prevent shorts.
FR-4’s Carbon Footprint
While FR-4's material properties have made it a mainstay in PCB design, its environmental impact is often overlooked.
According to the World Economic Forum, 50 million tons of electronic waste are produced globally every year, meaning that massive amounts of FR-4 end up in landfills. Traditional FR-4 is not biodegradable. This means that the FR-4 either stays in a landfill forever or, more often, is incinerated at the end of its life, releasing toxins and greenhouse gases.
According to Jiva Materials, the carbon footprint of one square meter of PCB-grade FR-4 is 17.7 kgCO2e.
Infineon and Jiva Materials
Jiva Materials is taking a unique approach to the FR-4 problem: the company is replacing FR-4 altogether. Instead, it has developed a new PCB core material called Soluboard that combines natural fibers with halogen-free polymers, resulting in a core material that is biodegradable. Jiva Materials claims that a non-toxic polymer enclosing the organic structure dissolves when immersed in hot water, leaving only compostable organic material behind. Since this core can break down, components and copper on Soluboard-based PCBs can be easily reclaimed.
The recovery process of a Soluboard PCB. Image used courtesy of Jiva Materials
According to Jiva Materials, one square meter of Soluboard has a carbon footprint equivalent to 7.1 kgCO2e. This means that a Soluboard PCB has a 60% lower carbon footprint than an FR-4 PCB.
To support Jiva Material’s efforts, Infineon has recently introduced Soluboard to its demo and evaluation boards. Infineon produced three different demo boards using Soluboard technology, and it plans to extend this portfolio in the coming years. Through this collaboration, Infineon is actualizing Jiva’s product and creating a positive impact on the electronics industry’s carbon footprint.