GEOPIC project targets biodegradable microchips

1 min read

A new research project led by the University of Glasgow is aiming to develop the world’s first microchips that can biodegrade at the end of their lifecycle.

GEOPIC (Green Energy-Optimised Printed Transient Integrated Circuits) will see the Glasgow team working with partners including ARM, PragmatIC and Zero Waste Scotland to design electronics that are more easily recycled into new forms or that naturally degrade towards the end of the product lifecycle. According to the researchers, consumers threw away more than 53 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2019 alone, much of which will have contained hazardous waste in components like batteries and circuit boards. It is estimated that less than 20 per cent of this waste is properly recycled.

“There is an urgent need for action to tackle the problem of electronic waste, without losing the cross-cutting transformative power of electronics,” said GEOPIC principal investigator Professor Ravinder Dahiya, from Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering.

“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.

“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.”

The project builds on existing expertise at the Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group. BEST researchers have previously developed various new forms of electronics, including bendable and stretchable printed circuits which offer performance similar to that of conventional silicon-based electronics, as well as wearable systems that can be powered by devices based on human sweat. GEOPIC will be supported by a £1.5m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

“I’m confident that we can find new methods of dealing with this urgent problem,” said Dr Jeff Kettle, co-investigator of the project. “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.”