Worldwide, consumer electronics are an unimaginably large market, with billions of smartphones, smart watches, laptops, and numerous other devices. Unfortunately, they all contain circuits and components with little or no recyclability. A unique invention by TNO should put an end to the huge mountain of waste caused by traditional electronics. Circuits are no longer etched on circuit boards but printed with special ink on ultra-thin film.


Printed electronics

The TracXon spin-off is a major step towards manufacturing of sustainable electronics. Traditional Copper plated circuits, and solders on a hard surface are replaced by circuits on flexible films printed with special conductive inks. The process was developed at Holst Centre, where many thin-film applications see the light of day. One of these is printed electronics.

The advantages of printed electronics are innumerable. Almost all film, ink, and paste used are recyclable at the end of their service life. This saves an unimaginable amount of waste on a global scale compared to the traditional production process. No longer an inflexible surface, but a lightweight, thin, and flexible material that can be produced in any shape. In addition, by printing only the required material, there is no waste of raw materials. Production is also energy-efficient and has a low carbon footprint.

Potential for complex applications

Printed electronics in themselves are not new, but until now they have only been used in fairly simple products such as tags and sensors. The method of hybrid printed electronics developed by TNO has the potential for many and also very complex applications. Apart from electronic circuits, this includes components in computers, tablets, smartphones, LED lighting, sensing, automotive, and healthcare. With this, hybrid printed electronics enter a completely new phase in which sustainability is the starting point.

TracXon, recently co-founded by TNO, has now completed a manufacturing plant for hybrid printed electronics. Even roll-to-roll (R2R) printing and assembly is realized. This means mass production to serve the major electronics manufacturers is realisable. This will allow them to swap their traditional production of electronics, which is resource-intensive and wasteful, for sustainable production and products.

Special feature

At the request of and in collaboration with a number of European and Asian multinationals, pilot projects for the manufacture of printed electronics are now under way. A special feature of this unique technology is the ability to produce LED lighting on large surfaces with tens of thousands of diodes. Work is under way with a foreign manufacturer on an extremely thin and flexible sensor that can be incorporated into clothing and measure body posture in a variety of conditions to prevent complaints. At an advanced stage also a temperature sensor that monitors battery conditions in electric cars or laptops to be monitored to a very high accuracy.