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Biodegradable Electronics Help Reduce Their Ecological Footprint

Posted by John Pallazola

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Oct 20, 2017 7:42:00 AM

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Biodegradable electronics are electronic circuits and devices with a limited lifetime owing to their tendency to biodegrade. These devices are proposed to be useful in medical implants, and temporary communication sensors.
After a pre-defined operating life, the electronic components are completely broken down in a biological environment, are opening up new applications as well as ways for reducing their ecological footprint.
A new application area for these innovative electronic components for example is in active medical implants, after the expiration of their operating life are resorbed by tissue, which spares the patient a second surgery to remove the device.
Funding for the project has started through its in-house program. The goal of the project is the development of essential components for biodegradable electronic parts that can be employed for example in an implant.
This includes:
  • biodegradable conductor structures
  • biodegradable electrodes for collecting electrical signals or delivering electrical stimulation
  • biodegradable thin-film transistors and circuitry
  • biodegradable barrier coatings as moisture and gas barriers, and electrical insulation layers
These elements will be monolithically integrated into a flexible thin-film device.
Deposition of magnesium via thermal evaporation under high vacuum conditions is being used as an enabling technology for this purpose. Magnesium is known for being a biodegradable and biologically compatible metal that is already used in clinical environments as an absorbable implant material.

Biodegradable electronics have the potential to go far beyond collecting medical data. These components could be used in places where surveys cover large areas in remote locations. Here is an example: where biodegradable electronics are dropped by airplane over a forest to survey the landscape. You don’t want to contaminate the environment so we need something that can be decomposed. Instead of plastic littering the forest floor, the sensors would biodegrade away.

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As the number of electronics increase, biodegradability will become more important. We have tons of computers and cell phones already and we generate millions and billions of cell phones, and it’s hard to decompose that number of electronics when the new model comes out, the old gets tossed aside. The hope is that researches can develop some materials that can be decomposed so there is less waste.

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