In this Applied Science video from last month, Ben Krasnow shows how you can create plastic PCBs (printed circuit boards). In the video, he takes a 3D printed part, laser cuts it, dips it in some chemicals, and out comes a plastic PCB, ready to be populated. Ben describes it as a “very functional process.”
The chemical process used here, called electroless copper plating, is something of a closely guarded secret. Ben tries to uncover these secrets by trail and error experimentation. He ends up with a recipe for a catalyst and a plating bath. The chemicals he uses in the plating recipe are Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate Crystals, Potassium Sodium Tartrate Tetrahydrate, Sodium Hydroxide (Sodium Hydroxide drain opener will work), Sodium Carbonate (Soda Ash), and Formaldehyde (37% solution).
The process is a little too long and fussy to outline here. If interested, watch the 27-minute video where Ben explains the chemistry behind it, how he went about his experiments, the process he came up with, and the resulting plastic PCBs. As always, this is as much a great science tutorial as it is an experimental how-to.