Success Story

Ames Laboratory’s Lead-free Solder Touches the Lives of Billions Worldwide

Lead-free solder

Extensive efforts to develop a replacement for lead-based solder resulted in the discovery of a novel tin-silver-copper alloy that not only removes toxic lead from our everyday environment but also serves as a direct swap for lead-based solders in the industrial setting, exhibiting a combination of low melting point, ease of application on typical metal joints, and reasonable cost.  The effort was led at Ames Laboratory by senior metallurgist Iver Anderson with assistance from co-inventor, Frederic Yost, from  Sandia National Laboratory.

Over 65 companies worldwide sublicensed the lead-free solder technology, which is used widely in modern electronic assembly as the go-to solder for attaching electronic chips and components to printed wiring boards in products such as cellular phones, computers and televisions.

Federal funding through the U.S. Department of Energy was provided for the basic research and technology development of lead-free solder.  Ames Laboratory’s contractor, Iowa State University, the Iowa State University Research Foundation, and Nihon Superior provided development funds.  Eventually two patents (5,527,628) and (6,231,691) were licensed to a small business, Johnson Manufacturing, Princeton, Iowa; Multicore Solders (now Henkel Corporation) of Richardson, Texas; and Nihon Superior Co. Ltd. Of Osaka, Japan.   Following a widespread movement in Japan (2000) to go lead-free in consumer electronics and legislative action by the European Union to eliminate most of the lead in consumer goods (2006), interest in lead-free solder skyrocketed.  The patents have now expired, but Ames Laboratory’s lead-free solder continues to be used in virtually all electronics worldwide, touching the lives of billions of people.

A winner of the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s “Excellence in Technology Transfer” award in 2009, ongoing lead-free solder product development continues in an effort to improve drop impact strength, thermal aging, and thermal fatigue resistance, with additional patents filed.