Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Recyclable vitrimer-based printed circuit boards for sustainable electronics


Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are ubiquitous in electronics and make up a substantial fraction of environmentally hazardous electronic waste when devices reach end-of-life. Their recycling is challenging due to their use of irreversibly cured thermoset epoxies in manufacturing. Here, to tackle this challenge, we present a PCB formulation using transesterification vitrimers (vPCBs) and an end-to-end fabrication process compatible with standard manufacturing ecosystems. Our cradle-to-cradle life-cycle assessment shows substantial environmental impact reduction of the vPCBs over conventional PCBs in 11 categories. We successfully manufactured functional prototypes of Internet of Things devices transmitting 2.4 GHz radio signals on vPCBs with electrical and mechanical properties meeting industry standards. Fractures and holes in vPCBs are repairable while retaining comparable performance over multiple repair cycles. We further demonstrate a non-destructive recycling process based on polymer swelling with small-molecule solvents. Unlike traditional solvolysis recycling, this swelling process does not degrade the materials. Through dynamic mechanical analysis, we find negligible catalyst loss, minimal changes in storage modulus and equivalent polymer backbone composition across multiple recycling cycles. This recycling process achieves 98% polymer recovery, 100% fibre recovery and 91% solvent recovery to create new vPCBs without performance degradation. Overall, this work paves the way for sustainability transitions in the electronics industry.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Transesterification vitrimer-based fully recyclable PCB.
Fig. 2: Glass fibre-reinforced vitrimer composite.
Fig. 3: Characterization of vPCB.
Fig. 4: Platform evaluation.
Fig. 5: Repair and remanufacturing of vPCB.
Fig. 6: Recycling of vPCB.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

All data needed to evaluate the conclusions of this study are available in the paper or in the Extended Data and Supplementary Information. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The source code is available for download on GitHub at


  1. Hibbert, K. & Ogunseitan, O. A. Risks of toxic ash from artisanal mining of discarded cellphones. J. Hazard. Mater. 278, 1–7 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Awasthi, A. K., Zeng, X. & Li, J. Environmental pollution of electronic waste recycling in India: a critical review. Environ. Pollut. 211, 259–270 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Song, Q., Li, J. & Zeng, X. Minimizing the increasing solid waste through zero waste strategy. J. Clean. Prod. 104, 199–210 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Forti, V., Balde, C. P., Kuehr, R. & Bel, G. The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, Flows and the Circular Economy Potential (United Nations University/United Nations Institute for Training and Research, International Telecommunication Union, and International Solid Waste Association, 2020).

  5. Abdelbasir, S. M., Hassan, S. S. M., Kamel, A. H. & El-Nasr, R. S. Status of electronic waste recycling techniques: a review. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 25, 16533–16547 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ogunseitan, O. A., Schoenung, J. M., Saphores, J.-D. M. & Shapiro, A. A. The electronics revolution: from e-wonderland to e-wasteland. Science 326, 670–671 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Ogunseitan, O. A. et al. Biobased materials for sustainable printed circuit boards. Nat. Rev. Mater. 7, 749–750 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Yang, C., Li, J., Tan, Q., Liu, L. & Dong, Q. Green process of metal recycling: coprocessing waste printed circuit boards and spent tin stripping solution. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 5, 3524–3534 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Zeng, X., Mathews, J. A. & Li, J. Urban mining of e-waste is becoming more cost-effective than virgin mining. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 4835–4841 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Hsu, E., Durning, C. J., West, A. C. & Park, A.-H. A. Enhanced extraction of copper from electronic waste via induced morphological changes using supercritical CO2. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 168, 105296 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Shojaeiarani, J., Bajwa, D. S., Rehovsky, C., Bajwa, S. G. & Vahidi, G. Deterioration in the physico-mechanical and thermal properties of biopolymers due to reprocessing. Polymers 11, 58 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Mir, S. & Dhawan, N. A comprehensive review on the recycling of discarded printed circuit boards for resource recovery. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 178, 106027 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Rocchetti, L., Amato, A. & Beolchini, F. Printed circuit board recycling: a patent review. J. Clean. Prod. 178, 814–832 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Chen, Z. et al. Recycling waste circuit board efficiently and environmentally friendly through small-molecule assisted dissolution. Sci. Rep. 9, 17902 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Khrustalev, D., Tirzhanov, A., Khrustaleva, A., Mustafin, M. & Yedrissov, A. A new approach to designing easily recyclable printed circuit boards. Sci. Rep. 12, 22199 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ahrens, A. et al. Catalytic disconnection of C–O bonds in epoxy resins and composites. Nature 617, 730–737 (2023).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Beeler, B. & Bell, L. Plastic recycling schemes generate high volumes of hazardous waste. IPEN (2021).

  18. Kawahara, Y., Hodges, S., Cook, B. S., Zhang, C. & Abowd, G. D. Instant inkjet circuits: lab-based inkjet printing to support rapid prototyping of UbiComp devices. In Proc. 2013 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing 363–372 (Association for Computing Machinery, 2013).

  19. Siegel, A. C. et al. Foldable printed circuit boards on paper substrates. Adv. Funct. Mater. 20, 28–35 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Huang, X. et al. Biodegradable materials for multilayer transient printed circuit boards. Adv. Mater. 26, 7371–7377 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Cheng, T. et al. Silver tape: inkjet-printed circuits peeled-and-transferred on versatile substrates. Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous Technol. 4, 1–17 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Arroyos, V. et al. A tale of two mice: sustainable electronics design and prototyping. In Extended Abstracts of the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 1–10 (Association for Computing Machinery, 2022).

  23. Cheng, T. et al. SwellSense: Creating 2.5D interactions with micro-capsule paper. In Proc. 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 1–13 (Association for Computing Machinery, 2023).

  24. Kuang, X., Mu, Q., Roach, D. J. & Qi, H. J. Shape-programmable and healable materials and devices using thermo- and photo-responsive vitrimer. Multifunct. Mater. 3, 045001 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Montarnal, D., Capelot, M., Tournilhac, F. & Leibler, L. Silica-like malleable materials from permanent organic networks. Science 334, 965–968 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Zheng, N., Xu, Y., Zhao, Q. & Xie, T. Dynamic covalent polymer networks: a molecular platform for designing functions beyond chemical recycling and self-healing. Chem. Rev. 121, 1716–1745 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Kamble, M. et al. Reversing fatigue in carbon-fiber reinforced vitrimer composites. Carbon 187, 108–114 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Park, S., Kim, S., Han, Y. & Park, J. Apparatus for electronic component disassembly from printed circuit board assembly in e-wastes. Int. J. Miner. Process. 144, 11–15 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Lee, M.-S., Ahn, J.-G. & Ahn, J.-W. Recovery of copper, tin and lead from the spent nitric etching solutions of printed circuit board and regeneration of the etching solution. Hydrometallurgy 70, 23–29 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Zou, Z. et al. Rehealable, fully recyclable, and malleable electronic skin enabled by dynamic covalent thermoset nanocomposite. Sci. Adv. 4, eaaq0508 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Kehong, F. High performance epoxy copper clad laminate. Circuit World 30, 16–19 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Guerre, M., Taplan, C., Winne, J. M. & Prez, F. E. D. Vitrimers: directing chemical reactivity to control material properties. Chem. Sci. 11, 4855–4870 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Yang, Y., Xu, Y., Ji, Y. & Wei, Y. Functional epoxy vitrimers and composites. Prog. Mater. Sci. 120, 100710 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Liu, T. et al. A self-healable high glass transition temperature bioepoxy material based on vitrimer chemistry. Macromolecules 51, 5577–5585 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Zhang, X. et al. Novel phosphazene-based flame retardant polyimine vitrimers with monomer-recovery and high performances. Chem. Eng. J. 440, 135806 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Daepp, M. I. G. et al. Eclipse: an end-to-end platform for low-cost, hyperlocal environmental sensing in cities. In 2022 21st ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN) 28–40 (IEEE, 2022).

  37. Hollins, O. Executive summary: an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions and waste impacts from improving the repairability of microsoft devices (Microsoft Corporation, 2022).

  38. Wu, P., Liu, L. & Wu, Z. A transesterification-based epoxy vitrimer synthesis enabled high crack self-healing efficiency to fibrous composites. Compos. A Appl. Sci. Manuf. 162, 107170 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  39. Zhang, D. & Huang, Y. Influence of surface roughness and bondline thickness on the bonding performance of epoxy adhesive joints on mild steel substrates. Prog. Org. Coat. 153, 106135 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  40. DuPont de Nemours, Inc. Recovery of Tetrahydrofuran (THF), Report W-400446 (2000).

  41. Hubbard, A. M. et al. Vitrimer transition temperature identification: coupling various thermomechanical methodologies. ACS Appl. Polym. Mater. 3, 1756–1766 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. Tian, X., Stranks, S. D. & You, F. Life cycle assessment of recycling strategies for perovskite photovoltaic modules. Nat. Sustain. 4, 821–829 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Weis, V. Prepreg Shelf Life (Arlon, 2020).

  44. Biswal, A. K., Nandi, A., Wang, H. & Vashisth, A. Ultrasonic welding of fiber reinforced vitrimer composites. Compos. Sci. Technol. 242, 110202 (2023).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Lucherelli, M. A., Duval, A. & Avérous, L. Biobased vitrimers: towards sustainable and adaptable performing polymer materials. Prog. Polym. Sci. 127, 101515 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. IPC-7711C/7721C Rework, Modification and Repair of Electronic Assemblies (IPC, 2017).

  47. IPC TM-650 Test Methods Manual (IPC, 2021).

Download references


We thank T. Cheng for discussion, Z. Englhardt for help with Bluetooth coding, B. Kuykendall for the use of mechanical testers, C. Li for feedback on the figures, K. Liao and M. Parker for help with flammability testing, and H. Wang for help with composite fabrication. We also thank D. Baker, F. Newman and C. Toskey for help with sputter coating and copper plating. This research was supported by the Microsoft Climate Research Initiative, an Amazon Research Award and the Google Research Scholar Program. Z. Zhang was supported by the University of Washington CEI Fellowship.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Z.Z., B.H.N., A.V. and V.I. conceptualized, organized and structured the work. Z.Z., A.K.B. and A.N. fabricated GFRV composites. Z.Z. manufactured vitrimer-based PCB and conducted characterizations. Z.Z. designed the hardware system, experiments and evaluations. Z.Z., J.A.S. and B.H.N. designed the repair experiments and evaluations. Z.Z., A.K.B., J.A.S., B.H.N. and A.V. designed the recycling experiments and evaluations. Z.Z. and A.K.B. conducted material characterizations. K.F. conducted the life-cycle assessment analysis. Z.Z. and V.I. wrote the manuscript. S.P., A.V. and V.I. jointly supervised the work. All authors contributed to the study concept and experimental methods, discussed the results and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Aniruddh Vashisth or Vikram Iyer.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

K.F., J.A.S. and B.H.N. are employees of Microsoft Corporation. S.P. is an employee of Google LLC. Z.Z., A.K.B., A.N., A.V. and V.I. declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks Rasoul Nekouei, Bozhi Tian, Xianlai Zeng and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Dynamic mechanical analysis of pristine and recycled vitrimer.

a, b, c, Normalized stress relaxation curves of pristine vitrimer (a), vitrimer after one recycling cycle (b), and vitrimer after two recycling cycles (c) at temperatures ranging from 140 °C to 240 °C. In all cases increasing temperature results in faster stress relaxation. d, e, f, Characterized storage modulus, loss modulus, and tan delta of pristine vitrimer (d), vitrimer after one recycling cycle (e), and vitrimer after two recycling cycles (f).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Peel strength for copper-clad laminates with a layer of partially cured vitrimer.

a, b, Curves of the peeling force per width of copper-clad versus displacement for laminates with a layer of partially cured vitrimer after thermal stress (a), and at 125 °C (b) compared to the PCB standard of FR-4.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 3 Joint strength of repaired via holes in vPCB.

a, Photograph showing the joint strength testing setup. Specimen is centered on a metal hollow cylinder support with a support span of 16 mm. b, Characterized shear stress of repaired via holes in GFRV compared to the repaired holes in FR-4 using super glue. c, Photograph of FR-4 after shear punch, showing cyanoacrylate glue bond broke. d, Photograph of GFRV after shear punch, showing the repaired via hole was deformed into a funnel-shape under the force of punch but remained intact, indicating a stronger interface at the hole boundary.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Solvents test for vPCB recycling.

GFRV samples were cut into rectangular shapes and immersed in various solutions (Acetone, CHCl3, DMF, THF); the top, middle and bottom photos were taken immediately after immersing, after 48 h, and after 96 h, respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Characterized storage modulus, tan delta, retention of storage modulus, and vitrimer transition temperature of recycled vitrimer.

a, Characterized storage modulus temperature sweep results of vitrimer after one and two recycling cycles compared to pristine. The storage modulus shows a slight decrease after recycling. b, Tan delta temperature sweep results of vitrimer after one and two recycling cycles compared to pristine, tan delta broadens and the left shift of peaks is negligible after recycling. c, Retention of storage modulus of vitrimer after one and two recycling cycles compared to pristine, data is presented as mean (SD) of vitrimer specimen in 4 parallel experiments (N = 4). d, Tv comparison of pristine vitrimer, vitrimer after one and two recycling cycles, indicating the shift of Tv is negligible after recycling. The Arrhenius plot is derived with a linear fit to the low-temperature region (140 °C to 180 °C), and its intersection with where the stress-relaxation constant is 10^6 indicates the Tv.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 Characterized electrical and mechanical properties of reformed vPCB.

a, b, c, Characterized dielectric constant (a), flexural strength (b), volume resistivity (c), and loss tangent (d) of reformed GFRV compared to virgin composite, data is presented as mean (SD) of 3 vPCB specimens in 1 (a, d) and 1000 (c) measurements (N = 3, 1000, and 3 for dielectric constant, resistivity, and loss tangent, respectively).

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 7 Environmental impact of vPCB freight.

Comparison of the environmental impact of vPCB freight versus conventional FR-4 prepreg freight across 11 different categories.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 8 Breakdown of global warming potential for conventional FR-4 PCB.

Global warming potential impact breakdown of conventional FR-4 PCB, showing that raw materials account for 48.5% of the total impact.

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussions, Figs. 1–11, Table 1 and References.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Vitrimer swelling in THF. Time-lapse video showing the swelling process of the vitrimer matrix in THF at room temperature.

Supplementary Video 2

Flammability test for GFRV composite. Video showing a GFRV composite being ignited, burning and extinguished.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 4

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 5

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 6

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 5

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 6

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 7

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 8

Statistical source data.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, Z., Biswal, A.K., Nandi, A. et al. Recyclable vitrimer-based printed circuit boards for sustainable electronics. Nat Sustain 7, 616–627 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing