Increasing use of electronic devices in consumables and new technologies for the Internet of Things will increase the amount of electronic scrap. To save resources and minimize waste volumes, an eco-friendlier production and more sustainable lifecycle will be needed.
Researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to produce sustainable displays that are largely based on natural materials with the help of industrially relevant production methods. After use, these displays are not electronic scrap; they can be composted. In combination with recycling and reuse, this could help minimize or completely prevent some environmental impacts of electronic scrap.
The display is based on the electrochromic effect of the initial organic material. When voltage is applied, light absorption is modified and the material changes its color. Electrochromic displays have low energy consumption and simple component architecture compared to commercially available displays such as LED, LCD, and E-paper. Another advantage is that these displays can be produced by inkjet printing in a customized, inexpensive, and material-efficient way. Moreover, this process is suited for scaling with a high throughput.
The materials used are mainly of natural origin or are biocompatible. Sealing with gelatin makes the display adhesive and flexible so that it can be worn directly on the skin.
The display is generally suited for short-lifecycle applications. In medical diagnostics, for instance, where hygiene plays an important role, sensors and their indicators have to be cleaned or disposed of after use. The newly developed display will not be dumped as electronic scrap but is compostable. It can also be used for quality monitoring in food packaging, where reuse is not permitted. Digital printing allows the displays to be adapted to persons or complex shapes without any expensive modification of the process. This reduces the consumption of resources.