Biodegradable integrated circuits are being developed by a team from the University of Glasgow in GEOPIC, a project that aims to tackle the growing problem of electronic waste.
University researchers James Watt School of Engineering have won a £1.5 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the project.
Their work could help address the growing toxic waste problem that arises during the manufacturing and disposal of electronic items such as computers, cell phones and fitness trackers.
According to the university, consumers threw away more than 53 million tons of electronic waste in 2019, much of which contained hazardous waste in components such as batteries and circuit boards. It is estimated that less than 20 percent of this is properly recycled, and the problem is growing every year.
Advances in contact printing could lead to bendable electronics
Printing process promises some bendable displays
The Glasgow team will work with industry and government partners to develop high-performance electronic materials that can be safely disposed of at the end of their useful life. This includes designing electronics that can be more easily recycled into new forms or by using components that naturally break down completely to form benign by-products.
The GEOPIC project – Green Energy-Optimized Printed Transient Integrated Circuits – builds on the existing expertise of the university’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group.
Researchers from the BEST group have already developed new forms of electronics, including bendable and stretchable printed circuits that offer performance comparable to conventional silicon-based electronics, and wearable systems that can be powered by devices based on human sweat. They have also developed methods for printing high-quality circuits on flexible surfaces.
The three-year project will build on that expertise to create silicon nanomembrane-based high-performance flexible and printed integrated circuits on novel forms of biodegradable materials. Once the circuitry is no longer needed, the silicon can be recycled and the materials break down naturally.
In a statement, Professor Ravinder Dahiya, principal investigator of GEOPIC, said: “There is an urgent need for action to tackle the problem of electronic waste, without losing the transversal transformative power of electronics. Currently, electronic manufacturing processes can produce a significant amount of chemical waste. The devices produced by those processes may contain components that are only partially recyclable at best.
“By developing new types of electronics that make their eventual disposal an integral part of their production from the start, we hope we can find a way to stop the flow of electronic waste and find commercial applications for the electronics we develop once they become available. first research phase is coming to an end.”
GEOPIC partners include ARM Ltd, IQE (Europe), the National Physical Laboratory, PragmatIC Printing, Printed Electronics, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Zero Waste Scotland.