RoHS Inspires No Passion in Power Arena

Aug. 1, 2005
On July 1, 2006, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive will be implemented in Europe. This EU Directive 2002/95/EC enacted by European

On July 1, 2006, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive will be implemented in Europe. This EU Directive 2002/95/EC enacted by European parliament in early 2003 states: “Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) will prohibit importation into [the] European Union any new electrical and electronic equipment put on market after July 1, 2006, made of materials containing more than:

  • 100 ppm of Cadmium (Cd)
  • 1000 ppm of Lead (Pb)
  • 1000 ppm of mercury (Hg)
  • 1000 ppm of hexavalent chromium (Cr+6)
  • 1000 ppm of polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs)
  • 1000 ppm of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).”

Though normally referred to as the lead-free initiative, there are really three different types of initiatives, one subsequently more stringent than the other. These initiatives include:

Lead-free

The tolerance of lead (Pb) is 0.1% or 1000 ppm. This is applicable to lead concentration only and not to the other materials.

RoHS

The material tolerance is as suggested above. In many power-supply cases lead may be the only material significantly present, and it is likely that lead-free also means meeting RoHS requirements because of negligible or no presence of other hazardous materials.

Green

The product is RoHS compliant and it should meet the specified limits on halogens. Halogens are Fluorine (F), Chlorine (CI), Bromine (Br), Iodine (I) and a few other materials. This is the most stringent requirement for which a directive has not been issued. But by all accounts, it will be forthcoming in the years to come.

Though the RoHS directive was issued almost two years ago and some momentum is building for its compliance, overall there is a lack of enthusiasm in the power-supply industry. Most power companies have procedures and systems in place to meet the requirements, but not many companies are marketing their products as such. Only a handful of companies have taken an active role in promoting their RoHS-compliant products. In general, there are no floodgates of products. And so far, there has been little discussion of this issue in power-supply industry conferences and forums.* RoHS has simply not drawn the passion of the industry like many other issues.

There are some caveats in meeting RoHS requirements such as the directive's deadline. Though July 1 is the deadline, there are some exceptions that may apply to many power-supply companies. Some switching equipment such as routers and servers are exempt from the regulation until 2010; four more years of a grace period and then another review will ensue.

Materials are another caveat. When all the products that are used in power supplies are analyzed, some of these banned materials are showing up in unusual places and in unusual compounds. Getting rid of them will take longer than anticipated.

Another issue is procurement. Power supplies are made of many components from a variety of sources. Power-supply customers usually ask for at least two or three reliable sources. For a power-supply company to comply with the RoHS directive, all of its suppliers need to meet RoHS requirements.

Enforcement also must be addressed. RoHS has been enacted with good intentions: to remove harmful materials from the environment. But, detecting the lawbreakers and enforcing compliance will be a challenge.

Pricing is not considered a major issue. In this price-competitive market, most companies are expected to absorb the cost. Whatever may be the current response from the power-supply industry, the deadline for RoHS compliance is approaching rapidly and there are signs that the power-supply industry is gearing up for the challenge, ever so reluctantly.

Mohan Mankikar is president of Micro-Tech Consultants, where he has been engaged in power electronics market research and analysis for over 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

*Editor's Note: A power-oriented talk on RoHS will be presented at the upcoming Power Electronics Technology conference, which will be held Oct. 25-27, 2005, in Baltimore.

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