Plans unveiled to develop first biodegradable PCB

The University of Portsmouth and Jiva Materials have been awarded a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) investment from Innovate UK to further develop and commercialise the world's first biodegradable printed circuit board (PCB). 

Jiva Materials, a Hampshire-based pioneer in sustainable materials, has developed a new laminate called Soluboard to replace the glass fibre epoxy laminate currently used in the majority of PCBs.

Biodegradable printed circuit board
Jiva’s new partnership with the University of Portsmouth aims to tackle the global problem of e-waste, which contributes to rising carbon emissions as well as ground, water and air pollution.

Available as a copper clad laminate, Soluboard claims to be the world’s first fully recyclable rigid PCB laminate. Its organic structure can be dissolved using hot water within a controlled environment, enabling the recovery of the natural fibre, copper and electronic components containing rare and expensive minerals. This includes the potential to recover whole components for reuse.

The investment from Innovate UK will enable Jiva to work with Professor Hom Dhakal and his team from the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering at the University of Portsmouth’s Faculty of Technology to develop advanced versions of the Soluboard. The researchers will test and characterise the properties of natural fibres, such as jute, flax and hemp, for their use as potential laminate materials.

Stephen Woodhouse, Knowledge Transfer Advisor for the project, commented: “The knowledge and skills embedded by this new KTP collaboration will enable Jiva Materials to scale-up and grow their business at pace, whilst simultaneously achieving technical novelty and greater efficacy through access to world-class research expertise.

“I’m confident that the collaboration with the team at the University of Portsmouth will provide a firm foundation for a series of exciting future innovations by the business.”

Comprising items such as mobile phones, computers, lightbulbs and household appliances, e-waste is the fastest growing domestic waste stream in the world. On average, each person in the world generates 7.5 kg of e-waste every year, with UK individuals contributing almost 24 kg each. Less than 20% of e-waste globally is properly recycled, meaning large quantities of critical minerals are landfilled or burnt every year.

Glass fibre epoxy laminates used in existing PCBs not only contribute to e-waste but often use harmful persistent organic pollutants as flame retardants. Soluboard is instead made from non-toxic and biodegradable materials and claims to have a 60% lower carbon footprint.

Professor Hom Dhakal, Head of Advanced Polymers and Composites Research Group at the University of Portsmouth and academic lead for the project, stated: “This collaborative KTP project with Jiva Materials wonderfully suits a mutually prioritised goal of working together towards achieving a sustainability agenda. We believe that the experience gained from this partnership will significantly contribute towards delivering more sustainable materials and increased circularity in the sector by combating the problem of e-waste.”

This is not the first recent innovation attempting to tackle recovery and reuse of components in printed circuit boards. In 2023, researchers in Kazakstan used polylactic acid (PLA) to bind together easily recyclable PCBs.