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Everyone has a delightful memory of paper airplanes when we are kids. Despite it is made of paper, it also aligned with the laws of aerodynamics as supersonic jets do. Paper airplane enables to be used as models for aerodynamic performance, which enlightens that paper could be a better choice for some manufacturing processing.

Have you heard about a paper printed circuit board (PCB) ?

A kind of design that integrated the electronic components into a piece of paper. A disposable PCB is seen as a more affordable, accessible, flexible, and environmentally friendly solution for PCB design. In this article, you can find something interesting about the paper PCB.

Table of Contents

How serious e-waste problem is?

As electronics become more prevalent, their fast updating speed has led to a massive increase in e-waste, which has aroused serious negative impacts on the environment and public health. It’s said that the United States generated about 7 million tons of e-waste in 2019, of which only about 17 percent was recycled. The truth is, however, it’s difficult to recycle electronic devices. Because some have to adopt non-biodegradable and toxic inorganic materials.
Millions of smartphones are manufactured every year. The e-waste they produce is just the tip of the iceberg in the electronic industry. What’s more, with the emergence of 5G devices and digital transformation, this phenomenon becomes worse and worse. Face with the pressure on the environment and the cost on e-waste disposal, it’s of great necessity to improve the recycling capability of electronic products and select more economic materials.

Something about paper PCB


A team of researchers from the State University of New York at Binghamton first printed a pattern of wax channels onto a piece of filter paper. The PCB prototype the team produced is made from a single sheet of paper with fully integrated electrical components that allow being burnt or degraded.

Professor Choi, head of the research team, said “Apparently, when it comes to environmental protection, the electronic commodities based on paper defects the traditional ones made by nondegradable materials.”

Currently, most of the circuits of electronic products in the market adopt glass fiber, resin, and metal wiring. Nevertheless, they are expensive in price, heavy and difficult on recycling. Thus, they are not well fit with some wearable devices, medical equipment, and environmental monitors. While a paper PCB can better cope with these drawbacks.

Featured with remarkable compatibility, paper PCB becomes a more affordable, accessible, and flexible substitute. For one thing, the biodegradability of paper attracts more attention as the future development direction for environmentally friendly electronic products, which relieves the pressure on the soaring amount of e-waste. For another thing, paper, with its dielectric properties and thermal stability, is likely to become a breakthrough in the basic materials for the next generation of electronic products. It’s all called “papertronics”.

The natural compatibility of paper with printing and stacking minimizes the complexity of manufacturing processes and equipment design. Through wax printing, paper ink injection, and screen printing, the wire is able to maintain flexibility while achieving full integration with the paper substrate.

Production process of paper based PCB

The team designed a paper-based amplifier-type PCB that contains resistors, capacitors and transistors.
  • After printing the wax channels, they melt the wax and soak it into the paper.
  • Then apply the conductive and semi-conductive inks to the paper – the areas of the paper that are not yet saturated with wax.
  • Finally, they screen-printed those additional conductive metal parts and cast the gel-based electrolyte onto the sheets.
After the following tests conducted by the research team, it’s discovered that the disposable made of paper enables easily deal with through biodegradation. Furthermore, the team also found that the paper PCB could be burnt to ashes in 20s after ignition.

Application and design of paper PCB


The disposable paper PCB is suitable for disposable wireless sensor networks (WSN) via the IoT, which is called the Internet of Disposable Things (IoDT).

What’s the novelty of IoDT?
Its WSNs enable it to be built with small, compact, disposable, functional but affordable software packages that can be connected to the network and then easily disposed of.

IoDT devices bring a more intelligent experience by rapidly deploying new applications and providing services at affordable prices. For example, point-of-care personalized healthcare systems, logistics and freight tracking solutions, food and grocery monitoring systems, and military surveillance or delivery systems.

Given that biodegradable electronics are beneficial to address e-waste issues, the materials and processing technology of paper are obliged to be paid attention to. This research aims to explore the potential of paper as a substrate and consider whether the electronic components could be integrated on a piece of paper. Although paper is probably to be replaced by more biodegradable materials in the future.

In fact, when we take a closer look at the essence of paper PCB, it can be realized that nearly devices based on paper have to consider the package. The humidity would dramatically destroy the paper’s form, performance and shelf life.

Hence, paper PCB is not born to take place of the traditional electronic PCB. On the contrary, it offers a novel design direction for effectively coping with the environmental issue in the electronic industry.


The emergence of a novel object often experiences a variety of scrutiny and observation before it is accepted by the public. Paper PCB is also no exception. The electronic industry has a “long way to go ” to face with e-waste disposal. In addition, due to the limited resources of electronic components on the earth, how to reasonably make full use of them and develop some fresh substitute also becomes a problem carefully considered.

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