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Researchers Getting the Lead Out of Electronics

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the space-age-polymers dept.

Technology 178

alphadogg writes "Researchers at the University of Maryland say they have discovered a material to replace lead, a potential environmental hazard, in electronics products. The material, bismuth samarium ferrite (BSFO), was found by researchers in the university's A. James Clark School of Engineering. It can be used in products such as biomedical imaging devices and inkjet printers, and if implemented commercially could keep lead out of landfills and the ecosystem, they say. While manufacturers have developed replacements for lead in many products, until now no commercial replacement existed for lead zirconate titanate (PZT) — the material of choice for transducers, actuators, sensors and microelectromechanical systems used in common electronic devices, the university says."

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What about radiation shielding? (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827013)

Could this new metal shield against cosmic rays as well as lead? I'm reminded of the scene in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars [amazon.com] where the inhabitants of a spacecraft have to hold out against an incoming solar flare and find their shielding woefully insufficient. A material that could block rays yet be lightweight and less toxic would no doubt be a boon to the space industry.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (2, Informative)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827049)

Water, boron gas, aluminum, etc you tailor it like Chobham armor in layers and with other tricks. You don't really want lead because of the density it doesn't matter much in space unless you're aiming 60 kilotons of it at DC.

We WILL become more green all this 'waste' is becoming the new gold. Help develop efficient technologies to evacuate landfills of the wealth in them and be the next Bill Grates.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (2, Informative)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827333)

I was under the impression that a materials ability to block radiation was (more or less) proportional to it's density. Lead being the densest cheap metal making it ideal. while the mass may not be a problem once in space, it sure is a heck of a penalty in lift weight to get it there though.
-nB

Re:What about radiation shielding? (3, Funny)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827481)

So we can't throw 60 tons of lead at DC because the DC politicians are even more dense?

Sorry offtopic, but we are talking about dense things.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (4, Informative)

DirtySouthAfrican (984664) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827505)

It's all about cross section, which roughly depends on the incoming particle's energy being close to the energy of a bound state in the atoms of the material that is to absorb the radiation. The density contributes an overall factor to the calculation. Also, led is nasty when charged particles are involved (electrons, probably protons), because they will rapidly decelerate and create brehmstrahlung, so you've traded a charged particle which is easy to deflect with an X ray, which is not easy to reflect. My wife uses plexiglass shields in her lab for this reason, because it gracefully absorbs beta radiation.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827857)

so plexi laminate lead then?
stipulating that we are in space and thus need to protect against *everything* while maintaining a reasonable lift weight, I could see the plexi handling alpha, and beta, but what about gamma and x-rays?
-nB

BTW: had no idea about plexi shielding beta... how thick is required?

Re:What about radiation shielding? (5, Insightful)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827721)

Actually, extra mass is a problem even once it is in space. Manoeuvring all that extra mass requires greater amounts of energy, which is often somewhat in short supply.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (5, Funny)

Miseph (979059) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827831)

Hey, no fair actually knowing how physics work! Here we are, all sci-FI about things, and you barge in with just sci... you must think you're sooooooo much better than the rest of us don't you?

Good day sir, I say good day.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (2, Insightful)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828445)

Especially since changing the momentum of that mass requires fuel, lots of it - and that adds to the mass. At some point it becomes a vicious cycle, at least until a far more efficient propulsion system is put into place.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828571)

Well, yeah, but on a space station where it's cheap(relatively speaking) to get more fuel it's not that big of a deal.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829203)

It depends on the type of radiation you're shielding against. For lower energy but penetrating stuff -- x-rays and gamma rays -- it really only matters how much mass you have. Lead is nice because it makes the shielding thinner, but it doesn't change the weight. In space, you care about mass far more than volume (normally).

For other sorts of radiation (high energy cosmic rays in particular), lead can actually be very bad shielding. Cosmic rays mostly pass through, but if they hit a nucleus then you get a huge shower of mid-energy secondaries -- which cause far more damage than the original particle would have. So, a small or moderate amount of lead shielding makes the total dose go *up*. For those sorts of particles, you need lightweight nuclei: hydrogen is good, carbon and oxygen aren't bad; water and plastics work well. You also need some distance, to give the secondaries time to interact. So, the low density means you need less mass, and the lighter nuclei are more effective, making the lightweight stuff far better.

But, this is all fairly irrelevant, as they're talking about replacing lead-based crystals in piezo actuators and sensors, not lead that's being used for its bulk properties or even being used as solder.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829831)

It depends on the nature of the radiation. X-rays are more effectively scattered and absorbed by heavy materials (I think it is proportinal to the amount of electrons, which is nearly proportional to the mass), particles are most effectively stopped by something with about the same mass, as this make the momentum transferred in each collision bigger. As most particle radiation has masses around the masses of the lightest elements (most of it is protons), light elements do this better.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#25830061)

More or less proportional to it's electronic configuration to be precise. More states ~= better. But that scales nicely with mass. ish. Molecules complicate things.

Re:What about radiation shielding? (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827321)

New metal -- wait, what? I think you meant new alloy. And no, this new material shouldn't be any good for shielding; If anything, it would degrade more quickly in a radiation-rich environment than any of its base metals because of the oxygen. But I am not a chemist -- I'm just taking an educated guess here.

You don't send satelites to a landfill (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827409)

You send them to space.... and if they do crash you make sure to crash it outside of California so that you don't get the eco-Nazis on your case.

Re:You don't send satelites to a landfill (1)

Miseph (979059) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827861)

Yeah, you dump it in the ocean, everybody knows that's just nature's super-landfill!

Re:What about radiation shielding? (5, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827489)

Lead is NOT a good shield against cosmic rays. Fast charged particles cause a strong bremsstrahlung (braking radiation) in lead. That's also how X-Rays machines work - fast electrons are slammed into targets made of lead or tungsten.

High-density polyethylene, water or paraffin work much better for cosmic rays shielding.

Now, lead is great against gamma-rays. But they are not the principal danger of cosmic rays.

First Post (-1, Troll)

Gastrobot (998966) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827021)

You might say that I got the lead out.

Toxicity? (4, Insightful)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827059)

So... have they actually tested this on humans to verify it's non-toxic? That's great that we're not using lead, but if this is just as bad for humans when it hits our water supply, what exactly is the benefit? Swapping one (cheap) poison for another (expensive) one?

Re:Toxicity? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827125)

Toxicology can be full of (un)pleasant surprises; but the list of elements involved is promising. Bismuth is a widely accepted nontoxic substitute for lead in applications where similar mechanical properties are needed, and is a component of certain medicines. Iron is generally unproblematic. I'm not sure about Samarium, though our wikipedia overlords say "low to moderate toxicity". Since one of its isotopes has internal medical applications, there are probably some toxicological data out there.

We'll need to test the compound itself, to be sure; but it probably beats lead.

Re:Toxicity? (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827413)

Isn't bismuth also used in pepto bismol?

Re:Toxicity? (4, Interesting)

worthawholebean (1204708) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827735)

Pepto-Bismol is Bismuth salicylate if I remember correctly.

Re:Toxicity? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829811)

Pepto-Bismol is Bismuth salicylate if I remember correctly.

I have to interrupt to say this exactly illustrates what a slashdot comment should be. It's like a glimpse of a platonic ideal.

Re:Toxicity? (4, Insightful)

hoytak (1148181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828299)

Inferring a compound's behavior from the individual elements is error-prone. Carbon is great and nitrogen is great, but CN, well, not so much. On the other hand, this is more true with organic compounds (containing carbon).

Re:Toxicity? (1)

ppanon (16583) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828409)

Yeah, cyclic aromatics also have a fairly high tendency to be unhealthy.

Re:Toxicity? (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828789)

Certainly true, particularly with clever organic stuff. On the plus side, it can at least give you an idea of whether the compound can be rendered safe by incineration, decay, or being metabolized by the right organisms. Particularly with the interest in incineration or plasma pyrolysis for waste disposal, I'd consider a toxic compound made of harmless elements to be a win over a toxic compound made of toxic elements(and, in some circumstances, even a harmless compound made of toxic elements). In the end, we'll just have to feed a bunch of this stuff to bunnies and fuzzy puppies, I suppose.

Re:Toxicity? (1)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828973)

I'm not sure about Samarium

If you ingest Samarium, your TV gets all staticy and then your phone rings and someone on the other end says "7 days!"

..and then before you die, you see The Ring.

Need a car analogy to go with that? :-)

Re:Toxicity? (2, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829477)

Bismuth is a widely accepted nontoxic substitute for lead...

So? Clorine and Sodium are two very toxic supstances, but NaCl isn't. See also: Thinkgeek [thinkgeek.com]
Properties of compounds often bear very little relation to their constituent parts.

Re:Toxicity? (3, Insightful)

sillybilly (668960) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827669)

As long as the product performs somewhere near as well as the old stuff, and it's patentable, then there is money to be made. We just have to find sufficient fault with the old stuff, and bad mouth it enough to start making money. Wikipedia says that as with the other lanthanides, samarium compounds are of low to moderate toxicity, although their toxicity has not been investigated in detail. An MSDS sheet where you can put toxicity N/A, no data available sounds better than one where you know it's toxic, because at least with an unknown there is a chance that it's not toxic. There is money to be made with the patent, and money saved by not having regulations to deal with. Regulations regulate know toxic materials, not unknowns.

Does it work? (1, Interesting)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828867)

What bothers me about all of this "get the lead out" BS is that if a substitute is used, will it perform as well as what it replaced? Look at all the good banning R12 did. R134A does not work as well, plus, 20 years after banning it because "it harms the ozone", now we find out, OOPS, my bad...R12 isn't that bad after all. Tell that to the dead crew of the Columbia Space Shuttle. The foam on the external tank was built, thanks to the enviro-nazis WITHOUT any Freon, and it blew off in chunks, ultimately dooming the shuttle. If the lead is taken out of electronics, how long until a "mission critical" sensor, actuator or other device fails, just to make a bunch of 60's hippies feel better? If the replacement works as well or better than the lead version, fine, but, if it doesn't then leave it alone. I've been in the electronics business for almost 40 years, and I can tell you from personal experience, that "lead free solder" (usually "silver solder") does NOT work as well as the lead/tin alloy that was used for over a hundred years.

But...but... (1, Funny)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827063)

...bismuth is radioactive!

Re:But...but... (4, Informative)

MiKM (752717) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827101)

Bismuth isn't radioactive [wikipedia.org]

Re:But...but... (0, Flamebait)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827123)

Wow! Did you see that thing flying over your head?

Re:But...but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827205)

Um. Unless your original post was some obscure reference to something, it doesn't actually qualify as even a bad joke. It's just...an incorrect statement.

Re:But...but... (3, Informative)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827449)

From the same wikipedia article that was linked to (it's even in the first paragragh!):

It is generally considered to be the last naturally occurring stable, non-radioactive element on the periodic table, although it is actually slightly radioactive, with an extremely long half-life.

Re:But...but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827891)

The word "slightly" is a gross overstatement. The half-life of Bismuth is on the order of hundreds of billions of years (and Bismuth-209 has a half-life of 1.9*10^19 years).

Re:But...but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827233)

what, that [geocities.jp] thing?

Is it a competition. Is it thanksgiving. 10 trillion reasons to play!

Re:But...but... (1)

MiKM (752717) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827761)

My apologies, is that a reference I missed?

Re:But...but... (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829219)

What? Yes, it is. Technically. But remember, this is /., so we're all being pedants. Bismuth is so minutely radioactive that it was predicted before it was measured. For any practical purpose, it's not radioactive, but if you want to get precise about it, it is. (Also, there's far more to worry about from the potassium in your body than any quantity of bismuth you could conceivably eat.)

Note the product list... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827475)

The material, bismuth samarium ferrite (BSFO),

Hmmm. "Lead" vs. Bizmasgonnabegoodumite. Sound like the new stuff might cost more...

It can be used in products such as biomedical imaging devices and inkjet printers,

Ah. So it's for the Colbert "Platinum" crowd, because we all know how cheap medical imaging devices are, much less "copy-right protected" disposable ink jet cartridges are...

Maybe we can get some lead free Cowboy Neal out of it too...

Lead solder replacement (2, Insightful)

Krishnoid (984597) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827083)

I haven't picked up a soldering iron in a while, but I've heard that non-lead solder has a lot more structural problems than lead solder. Will this stuff have related problems?

Re:Lead solder replacement (5, Interesting)

Majik Sheff (930627) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827209)

As a technician, RoHS is the bane of my existence. It doesn't flow right, it doesn't wet right, and it doesn't cool right.

Because RoHS solder is not a true eutectic alloy it tends to separate when thermal conditions aren't precisely right. As a consequence, many manufacturers had huge runs of products that stayed soldered just long enough to get out the door and frequently out of warranty.

I hope someone comes up with a better substitute soon because I am sick and tired of cracked solder, cracked solder, and cracked solder.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827355)

Also as a tech, I simply re-solder any failed component with lead/tin.
RoHS be damned. Though I do work in a prototype environment so meh on the production side.
-nB

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827465)

Perfect example being the RROD.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827949)

Yep. I just had to rework by hand more boards than I'd like to think about. The increased temperature required to reflow the solder already had the contract manufacturer's over maxed out for the panel size I was using - with 63/37 Sn/Pb solder it would never have been a problem - and then a stencil problem caused a bunch of bridges. It would have been a simple matter to fix with lead-based solder, but no matter how much flux you slather on it, it still doesn't flow right.

So yes, there are RoHS-compliant solders out there, but people underestimate the impact of throwing away years of experience with established soldering processes. It takes a long time to get really good information on long-term reliability. The new processes are also using a lot more energy, with the increased carbon footprint and so forth that goes with it.

If someone could come up with a RoHS-compliant solder that flowed and wetted like 63/37, with roughly the same melting temperature, I'd be all over it, even if the cost was significantly higher.

Re:Lead solder replacement (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25828231)

You've got to love an environmental measure that ensures a significantly higher failure rate in electronic devices, meaning more electronics to trash -- electronics containing materials much more hazardous than lead. Sheer genius.

People in first world countries have so little to worry about in terms of health issues that they strain to find bogeymen, and lead has become one of the things filling that role.

I had one couple fly up from Texas just to see my house in Seattle, make an offer on it, and later rescind the offer because the house was old enough that it existed when lead paint was sometimes used. There was no specific reason to believe the paint was lead-based, and much of the house was wall-papered. The mom was terrified of the possibility of lead and her email withdrawing the offer was filled with heartbreak because they really adored the place; they ended up getting a recent townhome in a much less desirable location. One twist: they knew from the beginning that the attic had loose-fill vermiculite that had a decent chance of containing asbestos, and they had no problems with that.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828481)

In auto restoration they will often use lead rod to complete the metal work. It would be nice to see a Human Friendly alternative that would provide the same results. Hell, it would be nice to find an alternative that would keep our repairmen alive a little longer too.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

rivetgeek (977479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828589)

only old school purists still lead bodywork. It's 99% bondo these days.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828767)

That's simply not true, there are far more than 1% of body workers exposing themselves to lead. True that the percentage is not high, and hopefully they are wearing masks. There are many things that bondo will NOT acheive(spelling?), one of them being staying power, it is nowhere near as reliable or longlasting(except on a fibre panel).

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

rivetgeek (977479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828857)

They have lead free alloys for use now. The ONLY reason to use lead these days is to keep a classic car "original" with period body filler. Also, nobody gets lead poisoning from leaded body filler unless they are eating it. And no, it doesn't get nearly hot enough to vaporize.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829085)

Anytime you take a metal into a liquid state, you are vaporizing a portion of it, I am an Ironworker/Welder, and many people said the same thing about galv.
It has nothing to do with period autos, it has to do with the fact that metal adheres to metal better.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

rivetgeek (977479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829299)

Seriously dude. I'm a machinist and Ive welding mig, tig, and arc for 15 years. Melting point http://www.insc.anl.gov/matprop/lead/pbcp.pdf

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

rivetgeek (977479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829305)

ok apparently slashdot hates the less than sign, it cut off half that post. Anyway, lead melts at 600 degrees and doesn't vaporize till over 2000 degrees. You are just flat out wrong man.

Re:Lead solder replacement (2, Interesting)

trip11 (160832) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829977)

Actually he's not completely wrong. When you say an object is at a given tempature, you are refering to the average tempature of the whole object. Individual atoms can be moving faster/slower than the average so really there is a whole spectrum of tempatures (this is very well known for an ideal gas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MaxwellBoltzmann_distribution/ [wikipedia.org] )

While the same formulas won't hold for a metal, the same ideas will be true. Another example. When you sweat, your skin is cooled by the fact the water is vaporizing (evaporating) off of your skin. But of course your skin is far from 100C, however some of the water will still vaporize.

I don't know the specifics for lead, but there will still be some fraction of the lead that will vaporize off at well below 2000 degrees. If that fraction is big or so small that it doesn't matter is another point all together.

Re:Lead solder replacement (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829955)

That's simply not true, there are far more than 1% of body workers exposing themselves to lead
... and 100% of them are exposing themselves to the far more toxic compounds produced by catalytic converters. Your point is?

Re:Lead solder replacement (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827757)

I frequently solder prototypes for my work, and I refuse to use lead-free solder. It is very difficult to work with, not so much because of structural problems, but because it doesn't melt easily. Because it takes a lot of heat to melt, I'm afraid of destroying my components, and it takes much longer to solder with. I also think it doesn't adhere to copper as well. With lead, you just heat the copper a bit, and the lead solder moves like a fluid where I need the solder.

Re:Lead solder replacement (4, Informative)

servognome (738846) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829275)

I haven't picked up a soldering iron in a while, but I've heard that non-lead solder has a lot more structural problems than lead solder. Will this stuff have related problems?

As an engineer working on lead-free solder development for electronics, the problems that can arise are specific to the application. The industry has developed a number of different alloys that perform under specific conditions. Instead of just choosing a tin-lead solder that works pretty much everywhere, developers need to understand the types of reliability stresses their product will see and choose the best alloy to meet those requirements. For example lead-free solders that work well in a thermal cycling environment tend to not perform as well under shock conditions. From an assembly side of things, a lot of the problems arise from using old SnPb equipment and materials for soldering joints using leadfree solders. Different reflow temperatures, wetting characteristics, and oxides, means that you just can't use the same old eutectic flux and soldering iron and expect the same quality of results.

Lead-free solders aren't necessarily problematic, they just require a little more understanding to properly use.

Reality check... (4, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827167)

Lead: Found in damn near every kind of mining ore. Very common.
Bismuth: 2x more abundant than gold. Not considered economical to mine for it; Usually had as a byproduct.

So sure, if you want your production costs to go up up and away, killing your competitive edge, use the eco-friendly BiFeO3. Everyone else, keep pushing recycling and consumer awareness. -_- Oh -- and the icing on the cake? Guess who produces most of the world's bismuth? China, the country best known for producing lead-laden products of much doom.

Re:Reality check... (1)

svnt (697929) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827219)

Lead: Found in damn near every kind of mining ore. Very common.

The difference is that if my toddler becomes developmentally disabled from licking ore, there is no manufacturer to sue.

Well, I could try, but I've heard he's got a Hell of a legal team.

Re:Reality check... (4, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827253)

If your toddler is licking mining ore I think your first court date will be with child protection services, not the manufacturer.

Re:Reality check... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827373)

You clearly don't know anything about toddlers. "mining ore" is a euphamism for "rocks". Toddlers eat rocks, and damn near everything else that's less then 4 feet above the surface. The only things they don't eat are those which resemble vegetables.

Re:Reality check... (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827569)

Not to mention that as long as you keep it out of piping and digestive tracts, your levels aren't going to go up enough to matter.

Lead's also so easy to recycle people do it in their own garages.

Re:Reality check... (1)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828505)

What do you think you breath in when you overheat it?

Re:Reality check... (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827739)

As opposed to licking circuit boards, which are probably live?

The problem with lead in electronics wasnt due to immediate risks, the problem was when the products got thrown out.

Re:Reality check... (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827445)

Oh -- and the icing on the cake? Guess who produces most of the world's bismuth? China, the country best known for producing lead-laden products of much doom.

And why does China produce the most Bismuth?

Because China produces the most lead from ore (the US refines more lead, but it's largely from scrap, not from ore)... I think China refines about 3x more lead from ore than the US.

On the plus side, bismuth production facilities are opening in Canada and other countries, on account of increased demand for bismuth as a lead substitute -- particularly in ammunition, but also in electronics and elsewhere.

At any rate, if we see hugely increased demand for bismuth, and the accompanying increase in production, we'll also see increased production of lead, since it would become a valuable byproduct of bismuth production :). Not to mention tin, zinc, etc.

Re:Reality check... (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827485)

The demand has already gone up. Ten years ago it was about $2 per pound. Now it's about $17 and rising fast. Production can't increase that fast in just a few years... We're nowhere near peak price on this yet; It could still rise many-fold more yet if demand continues to completely outstrip supply as it has been doing for the past decade.

Re:Reality check... (1)

PDX (412820) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828863)

What about the electrical shorts caused by aluminum whiskers? Bob Crigley had an article about that last year.

Only one way to get the... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827175)

...lead out, and that's with a double shot of Led Zeppelin, that is! CRANK IT UP, DOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

Way Too Late (2, Informative)

svnt (697929) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827185)

They may pick up some stragglers that are totally dependent on PZT, but in European consumer electronics, components containing significant PZT have been practically useless since 2006. Europe is not what I would call a small market - as a result, components everywhere are designed to meet the same requirements, meaning these components have suffered from declining demand and/or been removed from company plans.

"Products that use the new compound could hit the market in about five years, according to the university, after large-scale testing takes place, industry awareness and demand happens, and a method for mass production is created."

Given that RoHS [wikipedia.org] has already had a staggering impact on the electronics industry, I don't see "maybe 2013, if people figure out that they want this material, and if we can actually mass-produce it" as too reassuring. I'm sure not designing anything in the hopes that a PZT replacement will hit the market sometime next decade.

Maybe if you're in ultrasonics this is big news?

More reliable than tin? (5, Insightful)

kimvette (919543) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827203)

While it's good that they're getting lead out of toys, etc. what about computers, televisions, and other devices/appliances which are generally not regarded as disposable? Is this new solder going to be more reliable than tin, which is notorious for whisker and dendrite formation, which wreaks havoc with reliability?

Given that you're on /. I'd assume that you know what tin whiskers and dendrites are, but in case you're not here is a refresher:

http://www.siliconfareast.com/whiskers.htm [siliconfareast.com]

You can see where this is a problem. And, although it's been discovered that matte tin surfaces and good quality control can reduce the likelihood of whisker formation, what about repairs and installation/reinstallation of components on a mainboard? Replacing integral components (capacitors, sockets, etc.) require high heat, which is sufficient to change the crystalline structure and introduce new stress points for whiskers to "grow," and flexing of the main board from installation of peripherals, connecting devices to sockets, and simple heat/cold cycling will be enough to introduce stress points even in properly-formed, properly-plated components, creating points where whisker formation is more likely.

Yes, protect the environment, but since more and more electronics are being recycled rather than being dumped in landfills, isn't lead in electronics a non-issue anyhow? I mean, in most localities you're not supposed to chuck monitors and devices containing printed circuit boards in the trash.

Re:More reliable than tin? (1)

Eskarel (565631) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827647)

This isn't for soldering, they've already found a replacement(albeit not a very good one) for lead based solder.

This is about certain kinds of electrical components which needed to be made out of PZT.

Re:More reliable than tin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827685)

Your last sentence is where the problem lies. The end consumer is expected to act in a responsible manner in disposal. The local municipality is supposed to have a means to collect and make this convenient to the consumer. The company contracted by the municipality to recycle this material responsibly is supposed to follow it's mandate.

However the reality is when dealing with a well known toxin such as lead which is present in so many products all of the above are failure points.

And too often for whatever reasons some or all of the persons or organizations tasked with this responsibility fail.

A week or two ago there was a "60 minutes" special on some province in China which is the most toxic place on this planet. Why you ask? That's right the company which collected the electronic waste from citizens doing the right thing in a collection drive transported the waste in TONS from the good ole USA back to China where most of it is made to be "recycled". Yes this is illegal the laws are already on the books. Enforcement is what is lacking.

By recycled I mean dirt poor peasant folks barely scraping by literally melting parts off circuit boards over what looked like a scrap wood stove under an exposed tin shack.

Re:More reliable than tin? (1)

thinkobscure (948094) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827993)

The end consumer is expected to act in a responsible manner in disposal. The local municipality is supposed to have a means to collect and make this convenient to the consumer. The company contracted by the municipality to recycle this material responsibly is supposed to follow it's mandate.

However the reality is when dealing with a well known toxin such as lead which is present in so many products all of the above are failure points.

And too often for whatever reasons some or all of the persons or organizations tasked with this responsibility fail.

I completely agree with Anonymous Coward on this point. There are just far to many points of falure in the recycling process which most people are not aware of, hell most people arent aware of how toxic the components in their PC's are.

Over the spring, during a river cleanup, I picked a PC out of a small trash heap in a public park(among the other things found was a small dishwasher). I'm living in what I thought was a fairly clean city (Milwaukee, WI). Then about month ago I picked up a trashed audio amp off the street and 2 computers in my neighbors trash bin.

I attached a link to the CBS 60-Minutes artical with video of the actual e-wasteland for easy reference.

Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste [cbsnews.com]

Re:More reliable than tin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25828179)

how about NASA
http://nepp.nasa.gov/WHISKER/background/index.htm

Re:More reliable than tin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25828407)

This is not a new solder. It is a new piezoelectric material.

Lead, meaning 1 (1)

PearsSoap (1384741) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827387)

It's great to see someone taking a lead on finding an alternative to lead. The chemical seems quite complicated, I wonder where they got a lead to that from. Where will it lead? They might even be able to make home entertainment leads out of it. They could start the lead-up soon.

$130 / 100g (3, Funny)

epine (68316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827477)

A quick search came up with one site listing the cost of Samarium as $130 per 100g. I'm sure that's cost effective for medical imaging equipment. And I had never realized this, but our local landfill is positively brimming with discarded medical scanning equipment. I might try to scavenge some of this, but all the discarded MRI machines are clumped together by some unseen force.

Re:$130 / 100g (4, Informative)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827759)

And I had never realized this, but our local landfill is positively brimming with discarded medical scanning equipment. I might try to scavenge some of this, but all the discarded MRI machines are clumped together by some unseen force.

Might want to reconsider that. [wikipedia.org]

No solder replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25827487)

They don't seem to be replacing lead in a solder. Only in a funny piezoelectric compound. What percentage of lead in electronics it means is open.

this is old news (1)

Digitus1337 (671442) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827741)

My local radio-station gets the Led out all of the time!

Misleading title... (3, Informative)

jamiek (1242998) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827771)

FTFA, The researchers have found a replacement for Lead zirconate titanate not LEAD. PZT is a piezoelectric material that contains lead and is used to make actuators and transducers in microelectronics industry. The article itself is pretty poor describing piezoelectric materials as a "switch", so perhaps it is not the fault of the readers for thinking this was a replacement for lead based solders.

Why? (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827841)

I've never seen a justification for the huge amount of money that's been spent on removing lead from electronics. Yes, the stuff can be toxic if ingested in sufficient quantities. No, it isn't going to leap out of your old TV set and perform unnatural acts on your dog. Tin-lead solder has been used for many decades. It's cheap and it works. I can understand why lead was removed from paint and gasoline. It was creating real problems when used in those products. Why, other than catering to the irrational and unfounded fears of the public, are we removing it from electronics?

Re:Why? (3, Interesting)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828357)

Why, other than catering to the irrational and unfounded fears of the public, are we removing it from electronics?

Isn't that pretty much a politicians' job description these days?

The environmental lobbies have already pushed through enough regulations to put many U.S. industries out of business and left consumers with no choice but to purchase much more shoddy products manufactured with far less environmental controls from foreign sources. But, I guess that's okay. It's over there, right? It's not like pollution in a foreign country affects us.

Oh, wait..

Vacuum tubes come to mind as a good example. I currently design, build, and service vacuum tube musical instrument amplifiers. The tubes being made in China, Russia, and other countries in eastern Europe are crappy-sounding, unreliable, and vary wildly in specs from production-run to production-run, and even within a single run. It's so bad that old-production tubes that have sat in some dusty warehouse for 2 or 3 decades or more sell for unbelievably-high prices.

USD$400 for a pair of RCA 6L6's!?!? That's *if* you can find them somewhere?

http://www.kcanostubes.com/products/106/NOS-RCA-6L6GC-Blackplate-Matched-Pairs.htm [kcanostubes.com]

That's just nuts! The *whole amplifier* these things came in didn't cost that much new at the time!

I'm also going to keep on using regular 60/40 rosin-core solder in my builds and repairs until and unless they develop a true replacement that doesn't have the 'tin whisker' and other problems associated with current RoHS-compliant solders. If they outlaw it, I guess I'll be an outlaw.

I can see a future jailhouse conversation:

"What did they get ya for man?"

"Possession and distribution."

"Meth? Crack? Heroin?"

"Nah, 60/40 solder."

"Stay away from me, man!"

Cheers!

Strat

Re:Why? (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829911)

sorry dude, you are dead wrong there, i tell you that as a fellow guitarist.
because ussr has used tube electronics for much longer than the first world countries, the actual soviet tubes were of a much better quality and newer ones were of a much more modern design (smaller but with the same performance).

what you mean is that modern russian copies of western tubes suck, but it is a whole different story.

if you can find some genuine soviet tubes, try to design an amp with them.
for example try 6n1p or 6n2p for preamp tubes. they have comparable specs to the 12ax7 but with a different cathode design, better sound, and 12 db less noise. be aware though, that the both of them need 6.3 volt for heating instead of 12.6 of 12ax7.

or try the sub-miniature tubes like the 1j17b, 1j18b and 1p24b. good sound and less microphonics because of the rigid design.

you'll have to design new circuits especially for them, though.

Re:Why? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 5 years ago | (#25830067)

Vacuum tubes come to mind as a good example. I currently design, build, and service vacuum tube musical instrument amplifiers. The tubes being made in China, Russia, and other countries in eastern Europe are crappy-sounding, unreliable, and vary wildly in specs from production-run to production-run, and even within a single run

Really? Because I've found the Eastern European ones to be pretty good. In particular, the Svetlana 6146Bs don't need any particular matching - any two pulled out of the box will be about as close as you'd get matching by hand.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25829023)

Because not all electronics are disposed of properly. And once it's in the landfill or other improper place, the lead can leach into the groundwater and cause a lot of problems in a lot of species, not just humans.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25829475)

The idea is that wasteful humans throw out lots of electronic gear with lead in it, which gets buried somewhere. Then the electronic components break down over time and the lead seeps into the ground water. I think the general fear is that this contaminated ground water will become drinking water and give people lead poisoning.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25829771)

Why, other than catering to the irrational and unfounded fears of the public, are we removing it from electronics?

Because we are living in democratic countries, where irrational and unfounded fears of the public are the primary political force.

because it winds up landfills (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829809)

it pollutes the environment

and frankly, i think we need a replacement for lead shot too. that doesn't go away either when you shoot it into the woods. of course, its used because its heavy. i don't know, bismuth shot?

go ahead, lecture me on relative harm and ppm. i just don't want lead in my environs. am i being irrational? well, the question is: is the 0.000001% increase in bad health effects worth the trade off? in my mind, rednecks with shotguns running around the woods is not worth anything to me to be worth any trade off. and if they find a suitably priced alternate to any lead in electronics, again, the trade off makes anything lead based simply not worth it

its a healthy instinct to purge every single one of our industrial and commercial uses for a poisonous element or compound. why isn't that a noble goal in your mind? by the end of this century, i think all industrial and commercial processes will be retooled to include no poisonous elements or compounds. and this just makes plain common sense. the stuff accumulates. i don't care how minor the accumulation is. any accumulation, no matter how small, represents a goalpost for society to surmount

No, it replaces lead zirconate titanate (3, Informative)

dtmos (447842) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827935)

The researchers haven't come up with "a material to replace lead." They've come up with a material to replace lead zirconate titanate, a.k.a. PZT, a piezoelectric and ferroelectric material with many uses in electronics. Because it has an extremely large piezoelectric constant (meaning that it produces a large voltage under little mechanical stress) and is cheap to produce, it is the ceramic frequently used in transducers, sensors, and resonators. The thing on your motherboard that beeps on boot is very likely made of PZT.

PZT is not, repeat not, used in solder. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is one of your many friends.

Finding a ceramic with similar properties, but without the lead, has been a difficult problem for materials scientists, and the UM researchers say they have finally come up with a viable candidate.

This explains the medical imaging (1)

calidoscope (312571) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828751)

The summary kind of implied that the material would be used to replace lead-tin solder - but with the ferrite it would not be something you want in the bore of an MRI machine.

Thanks for the clarification.

The question is, (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828185)

how did the bismuth samarium ferrite get to the university's A. James Clark School of Engineering?

BSFO: Bitch Said F*** Off (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25828315)

Sorry, first thing that sprang to mind.

"Leadless" Lead Solder (0, Troll)

myspace-cn (1094627) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828687)

"leadless" Lead Solder.

I can barely wait. Wait. I will have to wait.

America is about to get a rude awakening. All this green shit. It's not shit, but it's going to have to end for awhile. Didn't you get the memo? All the money from the Treasury has been stolen. Barring some second industrial revolution, we are screwed.

What worries me is like in the other thread on Slashdot where the "potential new electronics engineer" doesn't know what kind of books to read for Analog. (I guess he was a student, who fucking knows, I wouldn't hire him to dump my empty circuit cards.)

What are RoHS companies using now? (1)

urbanriot (924981) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828831)

I've noticed a great deal of my computer components, such as Intel motherboards, as of the last couple years have been listing that they're "RoHS" compliant and "Lead Free." If that's the case, what have they been using?

Re:What are RoHS companies using now? (1)

TimSSG (1068536) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829129)

The people making medical devices are using Lead; RoHS has exceptions where the replacements of Lead would cause lives to be lost. I think aircraft has exceptions also. The links says other exceptions exist. Tim S http://www.pb-free.info/rohsexemptions.htm [pb-free.info]

Bismuth? Instead of Lead? Wow ... (1)

gordguide (307383) | more than 5 years ago | (#25828949)

What is this, 2008?
You know, I might be a little too harsh here.
Who knows, maybe this was not obvious to these guys.
Or maybe it was, but took a really long time to test it all out.
But, as someone who is familiar with Bird Hunting, I can tell you that banning of lead in Bird Shot (shotgun shells) began right about the time the first Apple Computer (no, not the Apple ][ ) arrived.
The US banned it for bird hunting in 1991. Today, it's more-or-less banned everywhere on Earth where they make any attempt at all to regulate hunting.

Ammunition manufacturers offered various alloys in it's place, but by far the best substitute has pretty much always been Bismuth. A little grumbling about the extra cost pretty much sums up the biggest objection. Cheaper alternatives exist (alloys, typically), but every single one of them is not as good at mimicking Lead without the toxicity as Bismuth. And you can buy Bismuth or Bismuth alloy shotgun shells all over the world today.

Wasn't this a fairly obvious place to look; a fairly obvious material to test? Why did it take so long?

Re:Bismuth? Instead of Lead? Wow ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25829517)

SO...

Are the bags and bags of lead shot i have in storage worth something now?

From bbb to 9. Got tons of it. And don't do much reloading anymore.

Obligatory plug for my alma mater (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25829205)

As a Maryland grad, it's nice to see results out of the engineering department. Ran into a lot of very friendly profs there in my time.

Duh..... (3, Funny)

IHC Navistar (967161) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829471)

".....could keep lead out of landfills and the ecosystem, they say."

-Because everybody knows lead isn't from the environment.

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