PCB manufacturers should start copper circular economy

31 May 2024 16:05

Center for Green Economy

Taichung - A circular economy in copper could help Taiwan reduce its dependence on imports as demand for the metal climbs, contend National Chung Hsing University researchers. The researchers found that Taiwan’s printed circuit board, or PCB, manufacturing industry could recycle 95 percent of the copper that they now waste.

The price of copper has hit a record high recently because it is vital for green technologies that reduce carbon emissions. This shift is putting pressure on Taiwan’s high-tech manufacturing sector, which depends on copper imports.

Now National Chung Hsing University environmental engineers believe they can help reduce their country’s dependence on foreign copper supplies.

Publishing their findings in an article entitled “Exploring efficient copper recovery and recycling in Taiwan's printed circuit board manufacturing through material-flow cost accounting,” the researchers believe the island’s printed circuit board manufacturing industry could help kickstart a circular economy in the vital metal. The article is published in the July edition of the Journal of Sustainable Production and Consumption.

Noting that Taiwan recycles only 60 percent of its copper and that the PCB industry accounts for 60 percent of the copper wasted on the island, the researchers conclude that 80 percent of the costs associated with this material loss relate to wasteful operations. PCB plants, meanwhile, could dramatically cut those costs while recovering 95 percent of their wasted copper.

“A process-oriented copper recycling program is advisable, especially for plants seeking to repurpose copper into products for external sale,” the article authors wrote, suggesting recycling copper waste from sheet cutting, lamination, soldering masks, and wastewater treatment technology. 

Given that Taiwan's PCB industry represents around 33 percent of world production, the researchers added, new circular economic models in the sector would provide an excellent example to others seeking to cut waste and source more copper. ce/jd