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Building the world’s first biodegradable plastic chips

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A £1.5m research project in the UK is aiming to build the world’s first controlled degradable integrated circuits using plastic electronics.

The Green Energy-Optimised Printed Transient Integrated Circuits (GEOPIC) project brings together chip designer ARM with plastic chip fab PragmatIC Semiconductor and substrate developer Printed Electronics, as well as materials supplier IQE, the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and researchers from the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering.

The three year project will create silicon nanomembrane-based high-performance flexible and printed integrated circuits on new forms of biodegradable materials. Once the circuits are no longer needed, the silicon can be recycled and the materials will degrade naturally.

We threw away more than 53 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2019, much of which contain hazardous waste in components like batteries and circuit boards. It is estimated that less than 20% of this is properly recycled and the scale of the problem is growing each year.

The project builds on existing expertise at Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group, which has already developed numerous new forms of electronics, including bendable and stretchable printed circuits which offer performance similar to that of conventional silicon-based electronics, and wearable systems which can be powered by devices based on human sweat. They have also developed methods to reliably print high-performance circuitry onto flexible surfaces.

ARM and PragmatIC have already collaborated on a plastic ARM processor, with PragmatIC also producing a plastic 6502 processor.

“There is an urgent need for action to tackle the problem of electronic waste, without losing the cross-cutting transformative power of electronics. Currently, electronic production processes can produce a significant amount of chemical waste. The devices which are produced by those processes can contain components which are, at best, only partially recyclable,  said Professor Ravinder Dahiya, of the James Watt School of Engineering, who is the principal investigator of GEOPIC.

“By setting out to develop new types of electronics which make their eventual disposal an integral part of their production right from the start, we hope that we can find a way to help stem the flood of electronic waste and find commercial applications for the electronics we develop once this initial research phase comes to a close.”

“I’m proud to be working on this project with my colleagues in the BEST group and our partners across the UK. I’m confident that we can find new methods of dealing with this urgent problem. We are delighted by the support of a wide range of project partners allowing us to work with material specialists, electronics manufacturer, environmental scientists, and policy makers, who will provide input as the project progresses,” said Dr Jeff Kettle, the co-investigator of the project

www.gla.ac.uk/

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