One of the flipsides of rapid technological advancement is the unrecyclable waste it creates. Electronic devices have short lives and little has been done to make their disposal less hazardous for the planet. But a radical idea of using mushrooms to construct the base of computer chips and batteries could make your next computer chip completely safe for the environment.
The science and other stuff to know
The suggestion was made by scientists at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria following a study on making the next generation of computer chips biodegradable. The results were published in the journal Science Advances.
The chips and their electronic circuits are key components in any electronic device and need an insulating and cooling base called a substrate to function properly. Trouble is, the substrate is made up of plastic polymers that are non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment.
With the new study, however, scientists have worked with a species of mushroom whose skin can be used to create substrates that possess the qualities essential for a chip’s base while being completely recyclable, according to a press release. The mushroom used in the study was Ganoderma lucidum, commonly found on dead hardwood trees. The mushroom has a natural ability to grow a protective layer, or a skin, to safeguard its roots from fungi and bacteria.
Investigation of the skin revealed that it possessed elasticity (bendable 2,000 times), had good insulation properties, could withstand temperatures of over 200°C, and had the right thickness to be made into a substrate.
One of the authors, Martin Kaltenbrunner of Johannes Kepler University, told IET that the mushroom skin could last for hundreds of years if protected from moisture and UV light, highlighting their effectiveness over the limited life of most electronic devices.
What’s more? Once the device is no longer functional, the chips and circuits could be detached from the substrate, which could be turned into compost or decomposed within two weeks.
The achievement is no small feat. Replacing non-biodegradable plastic waste from electronic devices with sustainable materials like mushroom skins could significantly lower the 50 million tons of electronic waste humans generate each year.
Most of this waste makes its way into landfills, where they not only take up acres after acres of space but also contribute to soil and water poisoning through the leakage of toxic materials into the ground.
Researchers believe the ideal use for these organic substrates would be in devices that have an extremely short lifespan, for example, Bluetooth sensors, small batteries, and radio tags. However, more studies and testing need to be performed to see if the material conforms to current industrial practices. If the challenge of calibration is achieved, it could truly become a giant leap toward a green electric future.