Simon Fraser University and Swiss researchers are developing an eco-friendly, 3D printable solution for producing wireless Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors that can be used and disposed of without contaminating the environment.
SFU professor Woo Soo Kim is leading the research team that developed the process. It uses a wood-derived cellulose material to replace the plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics. Additionally, 3D printing can give flexibility to add or embed functions onto 3D shapes or textiles, creating greater functionality. “Our eco-friendly, 3D-printed cellulose sensors can wirelessly transmit data during their life, and then can be disposed of without concern for environmental contamination,” said Kim. The SFU research is being carried out at PowerTech Labs in Surrey, which houses several state-of-the-art 3D printers used to advance the research.
This development will help reduce the adverse effects of electronic component disposal on the environment. For example, the waste from printed circuit boards is a source of hazardous contamination. Changing the plastics in PCBs to cellulose composite materials and recycling of metal components on the board could make disposal much easier.
The research program, which spans two international collaborative projects, including the latest, focuses on eco-friendly cellulose material-based chemical sensors with collaborators from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and also a team of South Korean researchers from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology’s (DGIST) ’s department of Robotics Engineering. Also, involved in the collaboration, is Protem Co, Inc., a technology-based company, which develops printable conductive ink materials.
In the second project, researchers have developed a new breakthrough in embossing process technology. It will enable fine circuit patterns to be freely imprinted on a flexible polymer substrate, a necessary component of electronic products. Embossing technology is applied for the mass imprinting of precise patterns at a low unit cost. Traditionally, however, circuits must be imprinted beforehand on the pattern stamp, and the entire costly stamp must be changed to make any change in the pattern. The research team has now succeeded in developing a precise location control system that can imprint patterns directly, resulting in a new process technology. This result will have widespread implications for use in semiconductor processes, wearable devices, and the display industry.