Finnish consortium participating in Sustronics e-waste and materials project

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The EU project Sustronics has been set up to lead the European electronics industry towards using more sustainable materials, as well as improving methods of design and manufacturing and delivering improved circularity and energy efficiency.

The project has a budget of EUR 40 million and is headed by Philips and is intended to pioneer design, materials and manufacturing of devices that will comply with strict sustainability demands that are, in part, goals of the European Green Deal and help companies meet the requirements of upcoming EU legislation concerning sustainable products.

The 3-year project comprises of nine pilots with the aim of redesigning existing devices or creating entirely new ones.

The Finnish research organisation VTT, which is leading a consortium of Finnish companies as part of the Sustronics project, will develop sustainable materials and manufacturing processes for electronic products, as well as circularity enablers, namely smart tags as data carriers for digital product passports.

In addition to VTT and the Finnish Tampere University, six other Finnish companies representing key steps in the value chain of sustainable electronics are participating including: Canatu, Movesense, Screentec, Tervakoski, UpCode, and UPM Raflatac. The Finnish partners are co-funded by Business Finland.

According to the World Economic Forum, 53 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded in 2019 alone and this number is set to increase by 38% in less than ten years.

The use of traditional materials for electronics is no longer viable due to their finite nature and the environmental damage caused by excessive e-waste, consequently, this calls for new materials and the uptake of the circular economy by the electronics industry.

Environmental and resource realities are also joined by legislative pressure to address sustainability issues with electronics. During early 2024, new legislation – Ecodesign for Sustainable Products – concerning sustainability requirements of products will come into effect. As a result, all products sold in the EU will be required to prove their sustainability. The new legislation will impact both the European electronics industry as well as any company coming into the EU market.

“In the near future, companies and consumers will need to choose the sustainable route in the manufacturing and consumption of electronics. The fact is that the current mainstream materials used in consumer and enterprise electronics are finite – we will run out of them. We want to change the foundation of the industry so that sustainable materials and processes become the new normal for electronic products – without compromising the performance, and circulated products will be a mainstream option for consumers,” explained Liisa Hakola, Senior Scientist and Senior Project Manager at VTT.

Sustronics aims to build an ecosystem showcasing how the electronics industry can address its sustainability challenges.

For example, due to rich natural resources, such as cellulose, and scientific expertise of multiple research and development organisations, Europe is a global leader in the field of bio-based materials. With participants representing, e.g., research hubs, material companies, device manufacturers, and electronic recycling, the Sustronics project will look to further strengthen the strategic autonomy of Europe as a leading, independent technology hub while addressing Green Deal objectives.

As part of Sustronics, VTT is participating in pilots aiming to make ECG patches, automotive dashboards and single-use diagnostics more sustainable. A pilot led by Finnish companies Screentec and MoveSense will develop an eco-friendly, wearable heart monitor with potential uses in healthcare and sports, enabling remote monitoring of the heart.

“Screentec aims to expand its offering by adding more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as paper-based substrates as well as copper and carbon pastes, alongside the current used plastic substrates and silver pastes. The Finnish pilot included in the Sustronics project, and the participating partners will enable the development, testing and validating of these new material combinations and structures. At Screentec we feel it is a priority to improve the environmental sustainability of single-use medical electrodes. Our aim is to present and offer these new greener options to our current and future customers in the next few years,” said Mikko Paakkolanvaara, CTO at Screentec.

“Together with our partners in Sustronics – large companies, small-medium enterprises, and research institutes – key players in Europe, we can demonstrate that, following a sustainability approach, we can increase competitiveness, productivity, resource autonomy and environmental compatibility of the European Electronic Components and Systems (ECS) industry. This supports the renewal of the European ECS industry towards a circular economy, recyclable materials, and resource-efficient manufacturing processes,” said Olga Kattan, Program Manager Public Private Partnerships at Philips Drachten.