Where do electronics go when they die? Most devices are laid to eternal rest in landfills. But what if they just dissolved away, or broke down to their molecular components so that the material could be recycled?
University of Illinois researchers have developed heat-triggered self-destructing electronic devices, a step toward greatly reducing electronic waste and boosting sustainability in device manufacturing. They also developed a radio-controlled trigger that could remotely activate self-destruction on demand.
“We have demonstrated electronics that are there when you need them and gone when you don’t need them anymore,” White said. “This is a way of creating sustainability in the materials that are used in modern-day electronics. This was our first attempt to use an environmental stimulus to trigger destruction.”
White’s group teamed up with John A. Rogers, a Swanlund chair in materials science and engineering and director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Laboratory at Illinois. Rogers’ group pioneered transient devices that dissolve in water, with applications for biomedical implants. Together, the two multi-disciplinary research groups have tackled the problem of using other triggers to break down devices, including ultraviolet light, heat and mechanical stress. The goal is to find ways to disintegrate the devices so that manufacturers can recycle costly materials from used or obsolete devices or so that the devices could break down in a landfill.
The heat-triggered devices use magnesium circuits printed on very thin, flexible materials. The researchers trap microscopic droplets of a weak acid in wax, and coat the devices with the wax. When the devices are heated, the wax melts, releasing the acid. The acid dissolves the device quickly and completely.
To remotely trigger the reaction, researchers embedded a radio-frequency receiver and an inductive heating coil in the device. The user can send a signal to cause the coil to heat up, which melts the wax and dissolves the device.
The Latest on: Self-destructing electronic devices
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The Latest on: Self-destructing electronic devices
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