From biomemory to implants, researchers are looking for ways to make more eco-friendly electronic components.
Researchers are investigating how to make electronic components from eco-friendly, biodegradable materials to help address a growing public health and environmental problem: around 50 million tonnes of electronic waste are produced every year.
Less than 20% of the e-waste we produce is formally recycled.
Much of the
rest ends up in landfills, contaminating soil and groundwater, or is informally
recycled, exposing workers to hazardous substances like mercury, lead and
cadmium. Improper e-waste management also leads to a significant loss of scarce
and valuable raw materials, like gold, platinum and cobalt. According to a UN
report, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of
While natural biomaterials are flexible, cheap and biocompatible, they do not conduct an electric current very well. Researchers are exploring combinations with other materials to form viable biocomposite electronics, explain Ye Zhou of China’s Shenzhen University and colleagues in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials.
The scientists expect that including biocomposite materials in the design of electronic devices could lead to vast cost saving, open the door for new types of electronics due to the unique material properties, and find applications in implantable electronics due to their biodegradability.
For example, there is widespread interest in developing organic field effect transistors (FET), which use an electric field to control the flow of electric current and could be used in sensors and flexible flat-panel displays.
Flash memory devices and biosensor components made with biocomposites are also being studied. For example, one FET biosensor incorporated a calmodulin-modified nanowire transistor.
an acidic protein that can bind to different molecules, so the biosensor could
be used for detecting calcium ions.
Researchers are especially keen to find biocomposite materials that work well in resistive random-access memory (RRAM) devices. These devices have non-volatile memory: they can continue to store data even after the power switch is turned off.
materials are used for the insulating layer sandwiched between two conductive
layers. Researchers have experimented with dispersing different types of
nanoparticles and quantum dots within natural materials, such as silk, gelatine
and chitosan, to improve electron transfer. An RRAM made with
cetyltrimethylammonium-treated DNA embedded with silver nanoparticles has also
shown excellent performance.