Greening Printed Electronics: Sustain-a-Print’s Ecodesign Optimization

Main Presenter:    Ignacio Zurano 

Co-Authors:   Isaac Herraiz     Mihaela Mirea      Enrique Moliner      Francisco Astorga-Mendoza                              

The EU’s electronics sector is one of the fastest-growing in waste streams production (2% annual rate). Surprisingly, less than 40% of electronic waste generated is currently recycled. To address the challenges of the increased resource extraction and waste generation triggered by the sector, printed electronics arise as an alternative due to their versatility, scalability, and low material usage. In this context, the EU Horizon project Sustain-a-Print is developing sustainable materials and formulations for printed electronics, focusing on reusing and recycling valuable printed electronic materials and using recycled, bio-based, and biodegradable alternatives to replace fossil-based counterparts. These developments will be demonstrated in two industrial applications: a biosensor and a membrane switch keyboard. Within this framework, a twofold approach was performed to boost the developed products’ environmental responsibility, recyclability, safety, and efficient use from a cradle-to-
cradle perspective. First, a streamlined life cycle assessment (LCA) based tool was conceived to facilitate data gathering from developer partners and results exchange. In a systematic fashion, all feasible materials, formulations, and processes were comparatively assessed, selecting the best trade-off between sustainability and performance, including technical, economic, regulatory, and commercial issues. The streamlined LCA provided early answers during the design phase by applying the following approaches: (i) screening for non-acceptable elements, (ii) limiting or eliminating non-relevant life cycle stages, (iii) including only selected environmental impacts, (iv) including only selected inventories linked to the above, (v) consider only constituents above pre-set limits, (vi) limit or eliminate impact analysis steps, (vii) use surrogate data. Second, a workshop with project partners was conducted to activate a generalised eco-design thinking framework, guiding and encouraging them
to provide feedback to further optimise the products environmental performance. Through this work, one hundred eight eco-design strategies were gathered, related to “selection of low impact materials” (42%), “optimisation of production techniques” (31%), “reduction of material usage” (14%), “optimisation of products’ end of life” (12%) and “optimisation of initial lifetime” (2%). The new product designs resulting from the analysis of these ideas significantly reduced the environmental impacts of the analysed industrial applications while integrating technical, economic, regulatory, and commercial aspects. Among others, inks reformulation arose as the most impactful contribution. Overall, the Sustain-a-Print project embraces the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan to further advance the circularity potential of electronics and electronic equipment.

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