Biodegradable Electronics Could Lessen Environmental Impact of Digital Devices

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A team of U.S. scientists says it has developed a class of biodegradable electronics technology that could be utilized for a wide range of products — from consumer devices to medical implants — and that ultimately would dissolve completely, leaving no environmental impacts.

Drawing on techniques that enable the production of systems using ultrathin sheets of silicon that dissolve in liquids, the so-called “transient electronics” technology has been used experimentally to make transistors, diodes, temperature sensors, and solar cells that degrade completely in even tiny amounts of water, the researchers say.

The devices are encapsulated in silk, enabling manufacturers to alter the rate of dissolution based on the structure of the silk used. According to John Rogers, a professor at the University of Illinois and leader of the research team, the technology could be used for a myriad of electronic devices that end up in landfills; for environmental monitoring equipment, such as sensors used in oil spills; and for medical implants needed for short-term diagnostic or therapeutic functions.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.