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SFU targets sustainability with wood-derived 3D printed electronics

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A joint team of researchers from Canada’s Simon Fraser University and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science are developing 3D printable IoT sensors which are disposable and environmentally friendly. Led by SFU professor Woo Soo Kim, the research is investigating the use of wood-derived cellulose materials for electronics.

Typically, electronics utilize polymer materials as their base, which are effective but unfortunately not sustainable. This is why Woo Soo Kim and his team are exploring the use of 3D printed cellulose as a potential replacement, as it can be disposed of with far less of an impact on the environment. The 3D printed sensors can also be tuned for flexibility and embedded into a variety of larger structures, including 3D shapes and textiles.

The forward-thinking project, “Electrochemical Sensors: 3D Printed Disposable Wireless Ion Sensors with Biocompatible Cellulose Composites,” was recently covered in the journal Advanced Electronic Materials and is being carried out at PowerTech Labs in Surrey, British Columbia—a facility which reportedly houses a range of cutting edge additive manufacturing technologies.

SFU sustainable 3D printed electronics
(Photo: SFU)

“Our eco-friendly 3D printed cellulose sensors can wirelessly transmit data during their life, and then can be disposed without concern of environmental contamination,” elaborated Kim, a professor in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering at SFU. “This development will help to advance green electronics. For example, the waste from printed circuit boards is a hazardous source of contamination to the environment. If we are able to change the plastics in PCB to cellulose composite materials, recycling of metal components on the board could be collected in a much easier way.”

3D printed conductive inks

Professor Kim is also working with another team of researchers from South Korea’s Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology’s (DGIST)’s department of Robotics Engineering and tech company PROTEM Co Inc. This research effort—separate from the 3D printed electronics but which presumably could be used in tandem with it—is focused on the development of printable conductive inks for electronics.

Recently, this project took a significant step ahead with the development of an embossing process that is capable of freely imprinting fine circuit patterns onto a flexible polymer substrate. The technique could impact processes for semiconductors, wearable devices and displays.

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