Environment

Compostable electronics could ease the e-waste problem

Compostable electronics could ...
Biodegradable components could come to a store ... and then a compost heap near you
Biodegradable components could come to a store ... and then a compost heap near you
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Biodegradable components could come to a store ... and then a compost heap near you
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Biodegradable components could come to a store ... and then a compost heap near you

Some day soon your obsolete gadgets could be as compostable as banana peels and spent coffee grounds. Researchers from the Young Investigator Network at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) in Germany are developing printed electronics from natural and compostable materials that could help make a dent in the millions of tons of electronic waste piling up worldwide each year.

Instead of silicon, heavy metals and other elements that can stick around for a while, even potentially creating toxic hazards as they break down in landfills, the researchers are working with biodegradable materials including semiconductors and dyes made of plant extracts and insulators fashioned out of gelatin.

"These may not be as long-lived as the inorganic alternatives, but they easily survive the service life of disposable electronics," says Dr. Gerardo Hernandez-Sosa, leader of the Young Investigator Group of KIT.

When they're no longer needed, he says the components can be thrown in with biowaste or compost where they will rot like any other organic matter that decomposes. He notes however, that some products with the word "organic" in their names like organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) aren't biodegradable in the same way.

"We call all synthetic materials that are based on carbon 'organic'. But this term does not tell us anything about environmental compatibility," he explains.

Instead of using metals or metalloids like silicon, the researchers are working with carrier foils made from natural materials like starches and cellulose, similar to the recent work of a Wisconsin-based team. Hard gelatins like those used to make drug capsules can also be good for insulation.

A key part of creating fully biodegradable electronics will be developing inks for printing circuits that have all the required environmental and conductive properties and also won't plug printers, among other concerns.

Addressing this challenge is the current focus of the research team. The scientists hope to have compostable organic electronics ready for suppliers or store shelves in about three years.

Group leader of the KIT printed electronics group, Dr. Gerardo Hernandez-Sosa, discusses the research in the video below.

Source: KIT

Young Investigator Network KIT - Printed Electronics

3 comments
SciFi9000
I obhore unnecessary non recyclable waste as much as the next person and appreciate the concept of going up the waste hierarchy, but am I the only one seeing the inbuilt obscelescence here? I don't want to pay for an expensive bit of kit only to find that it's 'gone off' over the summer. I can see the likes of giant electronics companies dancing at the idea of making people have to replace their 'out of date' electronics. It reminds me of those desktop image/document scanners that were perfectly good in every way.. except for the device driver availablilty for the next OS, as the manufacturer felt that the model was too old to support, even though the specifications were still quite modern. If humanity wants to make a dent in landfill, how about addressing the insanely ridiculous amounts of packaging which often takes up to 10 times the volume of the product
LeonorVillarreal
watch this 2 min video about ewaste https://youtu.be/WcmUfQcfTvs
katgod
SciFi, I agree that the last thing many of us want or need is electronics that rot or have an expiration date, this iPad smells bad I think I need to get a new one? Maybe better combustable electronics, that's always more fun and gives bloggers something to write about.