Life-Cycle Assessment for Lead-Free Solder in Electronics
About the Lead-Free Solder Partnership
To address the information gap on the environmental impacts of leaded and lead-free solders, EPA's DfE Program entered into a voluntary partnership with representatives of the electronics industry and other interested parties to evaluate the environmental impacts of tin-lead and lead-free solders.
The partnership used a life-cycle assessment approach to examine the impacts of tin-lead, tin-copper, tin-silver-copper, and tin-silver-copper-bismuth solders. Goals of the project included:
- evaluating the environmental impacts of tin/lead solder and selected lead-free alternative solders,
- evaluating the effects of lead-free solders on recycling and reclamation at the end of the electronic product life-cycle, and
- assessing the leachability of lead-free solders and their potential environmental effects.
In partnership with EPA and members of the electronics industry, the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies conducted a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of tin-lead and lead-free solders used in the electronics industry. The project focused on tin-lead and the following three promising lead-free solders:
- 99.3% tin and 0.7% copper
- 95.5% tin, 4.0% silver, and 0.5% copper
- 92.3% tin, 3.4% silver, 1.0% copper, and 3.3% bismuth
The study generated data to help manufacturers, users, and suppliers of solder to incorporate environmental considerations into their decision-making processes. An LCA examines the full life cycle of a product, and estimates environmental impacts from each of the following life cycle stages:
- Raw material extraction or acquisition and material processing
- Solder manufacture
- Solder application
- End-of-life disposition
The project generated information that can be used by the electronics industry to select lead-free solders that work well for a given application, and that may have fewer impacts on public health and the environment. The LCA also identified areas that need further investigation, and may help organizations to better manage their electronics purchasing and end-of-life disposition.
Project partners included electronics manufacturers and assemblers, trade associations (specifically, the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) and Association Connecting Electronic Industries (IPC) Exit), academic and research organizations (e.g., University of Tennessee Exit), and public interest groups (e.g., Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Exit).
The list of contributing industry partners includes:
- Cookson Electronics
- Delphi Delco
- Pitney Bowes
- Rockwell Collins
- Thomson Multimedia
For more information, please contact Kathy Hart at Hart.Kathy@epa.gov.