An example of a combinatorial library chip, part of a magnetic smart materials library. Via UMD
A new discovery by researchers at the University or Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering may mean a significant reduction in the use of lead in electronics, without having to devise whole new ways of creating electronics.
The lead-free material discovered is called bismuth samarium ferrite (BSFO) and can be used in a wide range of electronics, helping to reduce the occurrence of lead ending up in landfills when devices are dumped.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. households threw out more than 300 million electronic devices in 2006, many of which were exported to other countries for recycling, where their lead components were improperly disposed of. When the U.S. moves to digital-only broadcasting in early 2009, thousands of older, lead-containing analog TV sets could end up in landfills around the world as well.
This new material could be the first commercial replacement for the lead used in transducers, actuators, sensors and so on. The type of material currently used for these products, which contains over 40% lead, is highly useful, it's properties allowing it to both create voltage and change shape when voltage is applied. BSFO will act in much the same way and so can hopefully replace the leaded version.
This is great news not only for landfills, but also for developing countries to which the bulk of electronics are shipped for "recycling." Even better news, we can expect to see devices with this new material pretty quickly.
"Products that use the new compound could hit the market in about five years," he said. "Now that we've discovered it, the next steps are testing it in large scaled-up samples, drumming up industry interest and working out mass production."
Some very interesting information about how BSFO is made can be found in the press release.