Finnish consortium joins €40M EU sustainable project

15th November 2023
Sheryl Miles

The EU project, Sustronics, has commenced with the objective of guiding the European electronics industry towards sustainable materials, design, manufacturing methods, enhanced circularity, and improved energy efficiency.

With a budget of €40 million, a quarter of which comes directly from the EU through the KDT JU instrument, Philips leads the Sustronics project. It will lead the way in designing materials and manufacturing devices that align with stringent sustainability requirements set by the Green Deal's goals and assist companies in meeting forthcoming EU legislation related to sustainable products.

The 3-year project includes nine pilots aimed at redesigning existing devices or creating entirely new ones. VTT will play a crucial role in developing sustainable materials and manufacturing processes for electronic products. They will also work on circularity enablers, such as smart tags serving as digital product passports. Alongside VTT and Tampere University, six Finnish companies representing various stages in the sustainable electronics value chain are participating in Sustronics: Canatu, Movesense, Screentec, Tervakoski, UpCode, and UPM Raflatac. Business Finland is co-funding the Finnish partners.

According to the World Economic Forum, 53 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded in 2019 alone, with a projected 38% increase within a decade. Traditional electronics materials are no longer sustainable due to their finite nature and the environmental impact of excessive e-waste. This necessitates new materials and a shift towards a circular economy for the electronics industry.

In addition to environmental and resource concerns, legislative pressure is mounting to address sustainability issues in electronics. In early 2024, new legislation, the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products, will come into effect, imposing sustainability requirements on all products sold in the EU. This legislation will affect both the European electronics industry and companies entering the EU market.

Liisa Hakola, Senior Scientist and Senior Project Manager at VTT, states: "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 performance, and circulated products will be a mainstream option for consumers."

Sustronics aspires to be a leading project showcasing how the electronics industry can address sustainability challenges. With participants from research hubs, material companies, device manufacturers, and electronic recycling, the project aims to strengthen Europe's strategic autonomy as a leading technology hub while aligning with Green Deal objectives.

Canatu, a Finnish carbon nanomaterial developer, participates in a pilot aiming to create a sustainable biosensor for C-peptide, a biomarker for early-stage diabetes diagnosis. Ilkka Varjos, CTO at Canatu Oy, notes that: "Carbon nanotubes have the potential to enable several cleantech solutions, offering higher performance and a reduced carbon footprint."

As part of Sustronics, VTT contributes to pilots focused on sustainable ECG patches, automotive dashboards, and eco-friendly single-use diagnostics. Finnish companies Screentec and Movesense are developing an environmentally friendly, wearable heart monitor with applications in healthcare and sports, enabling remote heart monitoring.

Philips, the project leader, emphasises the project's significance for the future of Europe's electronics industry.

Olga Kattan, Program Manager Public Private Partnerships at Philips Drachten, states: "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."

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