Eco Innovation

National Innovation Day: innovations in sustainable electronics

16th February 2024
Paige West

In an era where environmental sustainability has become a pressing global concern, the electronics industry is at a crossroads.

Historically, this sector has been associated with high energy consumption, hazardous waste, and a significant carbon footprint. However, recent advancements and innovations in eco-friendly design and manufacturing practices are setting the stage for a more sustainable future.

This article delves into the key innovations driving this change, highlighting the benefits and challenges of adopting sustainable practices in electronics.

The imperative for sustainability

The electronics industry is a major consumer of resources, including precious metals, rare earth elements, and non-renewable energy sources. Moreover, electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the fastest-growing waste streams worldwide, posing serious environmental and health risks due to toxic substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium. Recognising these challenges, companies and researchers are pioneering solutions that aim to minimise the environmental impact of electronic products throughout their lifecycle.

Innovations in material use

One of the foremost strategies for sustainable electronics involves the development and use of recyclable and bio-based materials. Traditional electronic components are often made with materials that are difficult to recycle or hazardous to the environment. In response, researchers are exploring alternatives such as bioplastics derived from natural resources, which are biodegradable and offer a reduced environmental footprint. For instance, the use of polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic substitute made from fermented plant starch, is gaining traction for casing and other non-conductive components.

Simultaneously, there's a push towards more efficient recycling techniques for traditional materials. Innovations in recycling processes aim to recover more materials from old electronics with greater efficiency and less environmental impact. Enhanced methods for extracting precious metals like gold and silver from circuit boards are being developed, alongside more effective separation techniques for different types of plastics.

Energy-efficient design

Energy efficiency is another critical focus area for sustainable electronics. The design of devices that consume less power not only reduces their environmental impact but also extends their lifespan and lowers operating costs for consumers. Advances in semiconductor technology, such as the development of ultra-low-power microcontrollers and the use of gallium nitride (GaN) in power electronics, are leading to significant reductions in energy consumption.

Moreover, the integration of energy harvesting technologies, which convert ambient energy (such as solar, thermal, or kinetic energy) into electricity, is becoming more common in portable and wearable devices. This approach not only reduces dependency on the power grid but also extends the battery life of devices, further contributing to their sustainability.

Design for disassembly and longevity

Sustainable electronics also hinge on the principles of design for disassembly (DfD) and design for longevity. DfD aims to make electronic products easier to disassemble at the end of their life, facilitating component reuse and material recycling. This involves using fewer types of materials, modular designs that can be easily taken apart, and non-permanent joining methods such as clips instead of glues.

Design for longevity focuses on creating durable products that are easy to repair and upgrade, countering the throwaway culture prevalent in the electronics industry. Initiatives like the Right to Repair movement advocate for manufacturers to make spare parts, tools, and repair manuals accessible to consumers and third-party repair shops. This approach not only extends the life of electronic devices but also significantly reduces e-waste.

The challenges ahead

While the shift towards sustainable electronics is underway, several challenges remain. The cost of implementing new materials and technologies can be higher than traditional methods, potentially impacting the final product price. Moreover, the availability of recycled and bio-based materials is currently limited compared to conventional materials, posing a challenge to large-scale adoption.

Consumer behaviour also plays a crucial role in the transition to sustainable electronics. The demand for the latest technology and frequent upgrades can undermine efforts to extend product lifecycles. Education and awareness campaigns are essential to shift consumer attitudes towards valuing sustainability and longevity in electronic products.


The journey towards sustainable electronics is complex and multifaceted, requiring collaboration across industry, academia, and government. By embracing innovations in eco-friendly design and manufacturing, the electronics industry can significantly reduce its environmental impact and pave the way for a more sustainable future. As these practices become more mainstream, they promise to transform not only the electronics industry but also the way we think about and interact with technology in our daily lives.

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