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Optics and electronics developers cooperate to promote recycling

02 Dec 2019

Project in Finland aiming to create recyclable, compostable components using renewables.

Companies and research institutes involved in the development of optics and electronics components and systems are to cooperate on “greener” developments in a project managed by VTT Technical Research.

The objective of the two-year Ecotronics project, funded by Business Finland, is to create recyclable and compostable electronics and optics that use renewable resources. VTT is a state owned company that provides research and innovation services and information for domestic and international customers and partners.

VTT gives examples of the types of “greener” technical developments it has in mind: “Smart packages and disposable travel cards are excellent examples of the increasing applications of electronics. Smart packages communicate wirelessly with consumers and the entire supply chain, and disposable travel cards are easy to read remotely by card readers.”

The agency’s launch statement addes, “It is time to ensure that electronic materials and manufacturing methods are developed to enhance their ecological sustainability. This is the goal of the two-year ECOtronics project, amounting to €4.2 million in value.

Senior Scientist Liisa Hakola, coordinator of the project at VTT, commented, “Several companies and research institutes are developing materials, manufacturing methods and products for optics and electronics each on their own, and many of them have also tackled the environmental issues.

“In this project, the new aspect is that a group of up to nine companies and four research institutes will join forces to examine the environmental responsibility issues related to electronics and optics. The project supports the development of novel, environmentally friendly products seeking inspiration from, for example, the EU ecodesign directive," she said.

Kari Leino, Senior Advisor at Business Finland, added, "This project is also attracting interest from the European electronics industry."

Biodegradable roll-to-roll

The ECOtronics project aims to use materials that can be safely recycled, composted or even left to decompose in nature. In the project, the materials R&D will focus on substrate materials used as a base for optical and electrical components, replacing traditional circuit board materials.

As far as production methods are concerned, the project is strongly focused on printing methods by which optics and electronics can be produced directly on thin, roll-to-roll base materials. VTT notes, “As an additive manufacturing method, printing fully fills in the component materials so no waste is produced in the manufacturing process.”

Antti Backman, Chief Design Officer at New Cable Corporation Oy, commented, "We are already producing cables using roll-to-roll techniques, but we want to develop the materials further to make them even more environmentally friendly. I believe that the ECOtronics project will support our goal in many different ways."

Alongside materials and manufacturing methods, the project will also examine the whole product life cycle, starting from raw material manufacturing all the way to waste processing. The project will draw up Life Cycle Analyses for the solutions developed and compare them to solutions already in use.

In addition to New Cable, the other Finnish partners in the project are Iscent, Paptic, Green Company Effect, Stora Enso, Vaisala, GE Healthcare Finland and Confidex, and a French partner is Total R&D. The other research partners alongside VTT are University of Tampere, Lappeenranta University of Technology and Lahti University of Applied Sciences. VTT's contributions to the project include a pilot manufacturing facility for printed intelligence and long-term experience from the development of bio-based materials.

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