Cell phones made of cork?  The future of technology will be more sustainable

Cell phones made of cork? The future of technology will be more sustainable

World Economic Forum dataWe can no longer imagine our life without mobile phones. At work or in your free time, electronic devices are available at any time of the day. Duration, electronic waste —hard to recycle—accumulates, breaking new records every year.

Last year that waste exceeded 57 million tons, which is more than the heaviest structure in the world, the Great Wall of China. World Economic Forum data.

To try to alleviate this problem, researchers from JKU (Johannes Kepler University) began using the skin of the pipe cork (Ganoderma lucidum) as a substrate for the manufacture of electronic components.

Scientists have named the innovative new material “MycelioTronics,” and Martin Kaltenbrunner of JKU’s Soft Matter Physics Department believes it’s a “world first” that could result in more sustainable electronics. In any case, the cork skin is an “artistic barrier”.

The approach, led by the study’s first authors Doris Danninger and Roland Pruckner, “is more or less a fortuitous discovery … as is often the case when it comes to science,” Kaltenbrunner said. in the special magazine Science Advances. He added that the institute has been focusing on “fungus” for some time, but more in other contexts, such as insulation in the construction industry and the use of mycelium materials as an alternative to styrofoam.

A more sustainable electronics

The team, which has made a leap in recent years thanks to many new developments in robotics and electronics, also looked to applications of mushrooms to support sustainable electronics, as part of a new study.

Kaltenbrunner explained that scientists had discovered that the luminescent dye fungus forms a closed mycelial shell on the surface of the culture medium to protect itself from pathogens and other fungi. It turns out that this leather can be easily removed and then processed. The skin can be used, for example, as a flexible printed circuit board “to build electronic products on top of”.

Robust, flexible and heat resistant

The material’s tough, flexible, and heat-resistant properties could potentially make it a substitute for polymers currently used in the manufacture of flexible electronic components. Kaltenbrunner explained that all printed circuit boards are usually made of composite materials that are difficult to separate, recycle, or decompose. However, this biodegradable cork skin is now shaping up to be a real alternative.

As a first step, researchers at this university based in Linz (Austria) envision physical applications, such as the field of medical technology, where such components should basically function for periods of up to one year. “For example, we built proximity and humidity sensors and they work well too.”

The scientist made them by soldering “relatively conventional electronic chips” onto a mycelium substrate. Meanwhile, he added that cork skin is surprisingly heat resistant and can withstand temperatures of up to 250°C. This is an important factor when creating circuits.

When it comes to the development of new types of batteries consisting mainly of mycelium, this material is of interest as it can wirelessly power electronic devices.

Scientists have already begun to study the first approaches and are now trying to adapt the properties of the membrane formed by the fungal skin to various applied ideas.

But the authors warn that even if cork substrates and battery materials are successful, the e-waste problem will not be fully resolved, as some non-fungal components will still be needed in the final product.

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