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Ames Laboratory innovation key to a 'lead-free' Europe

worldwide have licensed Ames Lab's lead-free solder, according to Ken Kirkland, executive director of the Iowa State University Research Foundation. To date, those licenses have generated royalties in excess of $5 million.

ISURF holds the patents for research developed at Iowa State, including Ames Laboratory which is operated for the DOE through a contract with ISU.

"With the European directives and a similar commercial initiative in Japan, we've seen a growing interest in the alloy," Kirkland said. "The technology was a little ahead of its time, but it's an excellent product and we have a strong patent; you can't ask for a better combination than that."

The Ames Lab solder is just one of several lead-free alternatives on the market. The type and specific composition of lead-free solder also depends on the soldering technique used and the end application. In addition to the tin-silver-copper alloy, Anderson's group developed modified alloys that also contained iron, cobalt, and other similar elements. This blend is suitable for higher temperature applications and has also been patented by ISURF.

One ongoing problem with lead-free alternatives now available is a tendency to get brittle over time after repeated or prolonged heating cycles. And heat has become a growing factor as technological advances have boosted operating temperatures. For example, the steady climb in computer processor speeds has meant a corresponding increase in the amount of heat they generate. And computers aren't the only devices that generate heat.

"Even the circuitry in your cell phone operates at about 125 degrees Centigrade," Anderson said, "and over six months' use, that can mean several hundred hours of high temperatures. If you drop it now, the solder joints have become more brittle and the risk of it 'breaking' is higher."

To combat this solder "aging" problem, Anderson's group has recently been studying more additives to the tin-silver-co
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Contact: Kerry Gibson
kgibson@ameslab.gov
515-293-1405
DOE/Ames Laboratory
6-Feb-2006


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