This has been nagging me for a while. I'm an engineer, not a chemist, so I've probably misunderstood something.

The electronics industry uses the adjective "organic" a lot when describing materials. According to Ye Olde Wikipedia, an "organic compound" is:

An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon.

Here are three examples where the adjective seems to convey zero useful information:

  • Organic Solderability Preservate (surface finish)
  • Organic Substrate (for circuit boards or flip-chip assemblies)
  • Organic Acid (O*** flux types according to J-STD-0001, J-STD-0004)

The last one is particularly annoying, since Rosin flux is definitely organic in even the most restrictive sense (it comes from trees!) and contains many acids; Rosin fluxes are, in a literal sense, organic acid fluxes!

In the first two cases (OSP and "organic substrates"), well this could be just about anything including cookie dough.

Have I totally missed something here, or is it just understood that in the electronics industry the adjective "organic" means "super secret stuff we don't want to describe in any way so we will hide it behind this chemistry term that most EEs don't use on a daily basis"?

Here are more examples for the wall of incoherence

  • Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) (thanks @MarkU) although in this specific case I think "organic" has come to mean "individually tiny and therefore high resolution matrix at low cost".
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps just a "politically correct" buzzword coming from marketing people? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 30 '16 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably because there are inorganic options to all of those. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gato
    Jul 30 '16 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ 1. Sanyo has a line of "OS-CON" capacitors described as "organic semiconductor"(?). 2. OLED organic light emitting diode - may actually mean something in this context, see wikipedia. I agree that the term seems a bit uneven. \$\endgroup\$
    – MarkU
    Jul 30 '16 at 1:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is interesting. But it sounds much more like a grievance than a question. OSP is called OSP because it is the only surface preserving process that uses organic chemicals. The others are silver plating, ENIG, and tinning (with solder). Organic acid is a useful term to distinguish between things like oxalic acid or acetic acid and Hydrochloric acid. Not sure why you are so hostile about it. There are many types of organic acids, but the term is not meaningless. \$\endgroup\$
    – mkeith
    Jul 30 '16 at 4:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ A better question is why the American food industry uses it. Very little food is inorganic. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Jul 30 '16 at 8:09

Organic means something very, very specific from an industrial point of view. "Organic fruit and vegetables" has perverted the term as fruit & veg are definitely organic (as in carbon-based) but in this context it describes the lack of use of organic compounds (pesticides etc..) and a more "natural" process. Likewise "organic" can be used as an adverb to describe how something looks.

Organic Chemistry


Organic chemistry is a chemistry subdiscipline involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, and reactions of organic compounds and organic materials, i.e., matter in its various forms that contain carbon atoms.

The examples you have given and the vast majority of cases where the electronics industry uses ORGANIC is correct.

Organic Solderability Preservate (surface finish)

Organic Solderability Preservative, or OSP is a method for coating of printed circuit boards. It uses a water-based organic compound that selectively bonds to copper and protects the copper until soldering.

Organic Substrate (for circuit boards or flip-chip assemblies)

Polyimide and other such organic materials are used as PCB substrates

Organic Acid (O* flux types according to J-STD-0001, J-STD-0004)**

As opposed to inorganic acids like... Nitric acid (HNO3) Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) Hydrofluoric acid (HF)

Used to indicate amino acid structures are used. Organic compounds


Organic Light Emitting Diode's make use of a thin ORGANIC layer ( eg Poly(p-phenylene vinylene) ) to produce photons instead of purely inorganic structure of silicon and doping elements.

Organic isn't used because they are "individually tiny and therefore high resolution matrix at low cost".

  1. I see it as an "umbrella" term to cover lots of carbon-chain based compounds. Yes, it is easier to say (or print) OLED then say 'organic LED'. The term loosely implies 'not hazardous' but that does not hold true for Rosin flux.

  2. There maybe some truth in the maze of marketing lingo that organic is better for the environment. The phrase "Eat organic, you will be healthier" comes to mind. It is up to the consumer to be certain what "organic" means for a given product. Some carbon chains break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and air (garbage/trash bags, etc), but acidic fluxes are poisonous and corrosive, and would stay that way in a landfill for a long time.

  3. For lubricants, paints and other coatings the carbon-chain is there, so if not containing lead or other hazardous substances (Per RoHS), marketing can twist terms like 'Organic' into more superfluous terms like 'Green' products that are environmentally safe, yet we do want our paints to be durable. Marine paints include copper to repel barnacles and mold, but you have to look at the fine print to see that ingredient.

  4. Since 'fu-fu' dust is not on the RoHS list, I suppose it could be added to paint for some 'sparkle', but it would be given a 'cute' marketing term, so as to hide the 'magic' ingredients.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: not hazardous, no way. There are lots of OA fluxes that are carcinogenic and cause massive organ damage. In the converse direction FR-4 isn't hazardous at all. Sorry, there isn't a strong correlation between organicity and hazardousness. \$\endgroup\$
    – user4718
    Jul 30 '16 at 3:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user4718. At what point do I state that a hazardous substance is not hazardous? I have 4 paragraphs. Could you please point out the phrase that you say is incorrect. \$\endgroup\$
    – user105652
    Jul 30 '16 at 4:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user4718, you need to provide citation to your claim against sparky. I will however refute your "there isnt a strong coronation between organicity and hazardousness" Cyanide for starters. Organic chemistry involves CARBON. Sarin is another... Mustard gas. Benzene ring have a strong corolation to cancer. Quite alot of organic compounds are hazardous \$\endgroup\$
    – JonRB
    Jul 30 '16 at 7:42

My (possibly flawed) recollection is that this is one of the terms used to separate between acid-based fluxes (used in plumbing / radiator repair) and rosin-based fluxes used for electrical / electronics work.

Note that the term "Organic Flux" is decades old - the word was used long before there was any special significance like it has today.


If it refers to component packages, it will often mean some unspecified kind of plastic/resin (almost always made mostly through means of organic chemistry) as opposed to metallic or ceramic material (which usually is based on anorganic chemistry - carbon compounds in ceramics or metal alloys, if any, tend to be in the form of carbides or carbonates, not hydrocarbons that form the basis of organic chemistry).


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