Super Charged Sustainability: Non-toxic, recyclable supercapacitors

This week we will continue the theme of addressing the impact that electronic waste (e-waste). As we learned in last week’s post, e-waste continues to be a big problem for the environment.

Instead of using the approach of recycling and repurposing e-waste, what if there were little to no waste from an electronic component from the start? This is exactly what researchers in Switzerland are seeking to address. Researchers have been thinking about the Internet of Things (IoT). Specifically, the numerous electronic components that these IoT devices require:

“Many electronic components for IoT applications are produced by the million, have a short service life, and are powered by lithium-ion or alkaline batteries. While these batteries perform well, they contain toxic materials that need to be collected at the end of their life and then recycled using special processes.” source

These researchers have found a way around this conundrum. In fact they are aiming directly for the compost heap with a completely disposable, non-toxic alternative:

“an electric double-layer capacitor (EDLC) made from a disposable paper-like material. In the context of electronics, the researchers explain that “disposable” devices are those that can be thrown away in the trash, do not release toxic substances and ultimately fragment into small particles.” source

Not only do these supercapacitors become non toxic, compostable material, they actually store much more charge than a conventional capacitor!

“After two months buried in the soil, the capacitor has disintegrated, leaving only a few visible carbon particles.” Image: Gian Vaitl/ Empa

Where does the magic come from you ask? Believe it or not: Ink that is made from nontoxic and renewable materials. The method used is similar to 3D printing and is called direct-ink writing:

“In this technique, viscoelastic gel ink is extruded line-by-line and layer-by-layer from a printer nozzle to form three-dimensional objects.” source

While this new technique was far from easy to develop, there seems to be a lot of promise for these super capacitors in the IoT realm as the direct-ink writing allows for applications on complex 3D surfaces such as electronic circuits.

Be on the lookout for more updates and developments in the realm of sustainable, renewable electronics. It is certainly an exciting field that seems to be a win-win for electronics and the environment.

What do you think about these disposable, environmentally friendly supercapacitors? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Have fun everyone! 😃

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