Ladislav Kubes @ stock.adobe.com
Flexible, organic, and biodegradable electronics made of cellulose, silk, or other non-toxic materials could be a solution to reduce toxic electronic waste, which is currently deposited directly into landfills or incinerated because recycling is difficult and/or expensive. With the potential to revolutionize wearable computing and IoT as a whole, these recyclable materials are also biocompatible and metabolizable. They could be applied to many low-cost applications such as eco-friendly sensors for open and closed environments, smart-packaging, cameras, or data-secure hardware.
These electronic circuits can be used for medical purposes and be implanted in the human body, disappearing entirely upon accomplishing its predetermined task while sending medical information after the precepts of an Electrochemical Nano Biosensor, for instance. Such applications could thus spare patients a second surgical intervention, in the forms of edible sensors for check-ups, monitoring intracranial pressure, identifying neural networks, and assisting with the wound healing process.
The nanoroboticist Metin Sitti is taking into consideration this solution for the development of his surgeon nanorobot, which for now is eliminated through feces and urine, but in the near future, his team hopes to make it not only biodegradable but possible to be absorbed by the body. Besides helping doctors with image diagnosis, this kind of biodegradable nanorobots could also serve as a kind of Electronic Drug-delivery Pill to treat specific sickened organs and tissues, for example.
Metals such as magnesium are recognized as adaptable, biodegradable, and biologically compatible metal, able to be applied in medical environments without harming the user or general surroundings. The challenge consists of depositing this metal onto biodegradable polymer films that magnesium does not sufficiently adhere to under normal processing conditions. By suitably pre-treating the substrates using a combination of drying, plasma treatment, and utilization of seed layers, a precise structured, high-quality conductor could be manufactured. These electronic devices are completely broken down in a biological environment after an operation that is pre-elaborated to collect data from novel applications, reducing its ecological footprint.
An End for Electronic Waste and Invasive Medical Procedures
A new application area for these innovative electronic components is in the field of active medical implants. It would completely alter the approach to surgical procedures without any clinical intervention and change the whole spectrum of medical appliances. Some complex treatments could be carried out without worrying patients afraid of needles, surgeries, or any other invasive medical application.
In a future world where every electronic device is biodegradable, the amount of waste discarded would be drastically reduced. It would consequently change our mindsets and even mark a generation of users where electronic devices would subsequently not harm the environment. If technology evolves far enough for these devices to enrich agricultural soil, what once used to be considered electronic waste could then biodegrade and thus close the loop.