Feb, 2022 - By SMI
In the search for environment-friendly alternatives, researchers at the Empa Institute in Switzerland developed 3D-printable electronic ink (e-ink) that biodegrades when discarded.
In a recent study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, Swiss scientists from Empa Institute reported the development of a new e-ink made from renewable materials for 3D printing of electrical circuits. With the advancement of technologies, 3D-printed electronics have witnessed high production, consequently, worsening the impact of e-waste on the environment.
Conductive inks consisting of heavy metals and non-renewable petroleum-based polymers are widely used for the production of 3D-printed circuits. These circuits have become the ideal material for disposable electronics, as they are cheap and easy to print. However, once these devices are discarded, mostly in the environment, it becomes hard to retrieve or safely dispose of the ink inside them.
The new biodegradable e-ink, on the other hand, not only decomposes when left exposed to the environment but can also be removed from the devices using alcohol. The researchers used elongated graphite platelets for most of the conductivity of the ink and particles of conductive carbon black to bridge the gaps between the platelets. A matrix of shellac derived from resin secreted by the lac inside has been included in the two low-cost forms of carbon.
Following several trials and errors involving varying platelet sizes and mix ratios, the researchers came up with a highly conductive e-ink that is tough, flexible, waterproof, and can be both 2D and 3D printed using current technologies. They have used this ink in developing a few items such as a deformation sensor; when the sensor bends, there is a change in the electrical resistance of the printed circuit.
The researchers seek to find numerous applications of the new e-ink in sustainable printed electronics such as sensor elements and conductive tracks for biomedical devices and smart packaging or in the areas of food and environmental sensing.
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