A roadmap for flexible and green electronics

A roadmap for flexible and green electronics

August 19, 2019
Press Release: Technical University of Denmark

Protein‐based components that are electrically active can open new exciting avenues in electronics because of their flexibility, greenness, lightness, and abundance

A research group led by Professor Alireza Dolatshahi-Pirouz at the Technical University of Denmark, is developing a new class of thin-film electronics called ‘fleco-ionics’, the goal of which is to find green alternatives to reduce the explosively growing amount of e-waste.

The team is using cocoons, woven by silkworms, to extract silk – one of the strongest materials in nature. It is cheap, readily available and biodegradable. In addition, it is an ionic conductor.

Professor Dolatshahi-Pirouz and his team have transformed this natural polymer into an ionic material with stable performance in both aqueous and chemically active environments, and this enables a wide range of applications within the field of flexible and wearable electronics.

“We need to think simple,” says Professor Dolatshahi-Pirouz. “Why do we want to do old, complicated chemical syntheses that take months and years to optimize when we can be smart and look into nature?”

In simple terms, ionic conductors are materials that can conduct electricity mainly through the passage of ions, and they have been utilized to yield flexible Li-ion batteries, stretchable display devices, transparent touchscreens, loudspeakers and actuators. These materials have brought the field of electronics to a new level, but they still present drawbacks. Notably, most of them have been made of synthetic materials, which are potentially hazardous for humans and the environment. Therefore, research toward eco-friendly alternatives is essential. These conductors could potentially bridge the deep gap that currently exists between electronic devices and greenness.

In a recent paper in Advanced Science (A Protein-Based, Water-Insoluble, and Bendable Polymer with Ionic Conductivity: A Roadmap for Flexible and Green Electronics), the team have developed a small motion sensor which – unlike its predecessors – is not made of environmentally harmful synthetic materials. Instead, it is a fleco-ionic based on silk and nano-sized clay. The production process is extremely simple, with the two components merely being mixed in water. Therefore, this product is incredibly easy to upscale. What’s more, it can be recycled again and again and maintains its high electrical sensitivity even after 2,000 bending cycles.

Another promising aspect of the technology is its low cost (US$0.62/unit) and scalable manufacturing process. This will ultimately make these sensors suitable for mass production without compromising the environment.

The application of these sensors varies from motion-sensing gloves (e-gloves) to pressure-sensitive display screens in the electronics industry. In fact, the team is already developing a glove equipped with the flexible motion sensors. Supported by DTU’s Proof of Concept funding, the team will be ready with the first prototype of their e-glove in around 10 months, which would help surgeons to perform better in operations, translate sign language or even help golfers improve their technique.

In a similar vein, they are working on flexible sensing systems that readily conform to the curvatures of the body and can measure motions without any discomfort to the user. This would address a number of drawbacks that current motion capture imaging technologies are suffering from in terms of their limited measuring range, low sensitivity and impractical measuring scenarios.

E-Waste World Conference & Expo will take place from Thursday 14 November to Friday 15 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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