Home LATEST NEWS Towards biodegradable electronics thanks to squid ink

Towards biodegradable electronics thanks to squid ink


A Quebec team has developed a process to print melanin purified from squid ink. She has just published an article in the American scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Using biosourced materials – which come from living things – in the world of electronics makes it possible to envisage a different end of life for these objects. They could then take the path of compost.

You have to be careful, because there are criteria to respect for compostable materials, but there is a good chance that it is biodegradable, and even biocompatible.underlines one of the authors of the article, Professor Clara Santato, from the Department of Engineering Physics at Polytechnique Montréal.

In fact, beyond using biosourced materials, Professor Santato wants to highlight that it is possible to recover waste in electronics.

We must, in my opinion, open our minds a little and think that waste does not exist. [Ils] are just a stage in the life history of a material. »

A quote from Clara Santato, professor in the Department of Engineering Physics at Polytechnique Montréal

If squid ink, which contains a lot of melanin, was used for the study, other perspectives are possible. For example, in the food industry, an insect farm contacted her to find out if their residues, rich in melanin, could be used to manufacture electronic components.

Although it has been known for about forty years that organic molecules can conduct electricity, environmental concerns have led researchers to take an interest in biosourced materials, which could be found in waste in particular, according to the academic.

This material [le déchet] is already available, so I don’t need to go to a chemical industry to synthesize itshe adds.

A recipe for conductivity

Another reason why melanins, brown-black pigments made of cycles of carbon atoms, have been little used until now: their lack of solubility, which makes the material difficult to process.

The Polytechnique team, in partnership with the Institute of Graphic Communications and Printability, has succeeded in overcoming this problem thanks to a recipe for making melanin from squid ink soluble.

Thanks to a few ingredients and a binding agent, this mixture, once printed, forms a three-dimensional conductive network which can therefore be used in electronic components.

It is the nanogranules of melanin, derived from squid ink, which make it possible to transmit electricity.

Paradoxically, our interest in developing technologies has helped us in the fundamentalsays Professor Santato.

Indeed, these years of work on melanins have made it possible to arrive at a discovery regarding the conductivity of organic molecules.

This is one of the first times that a biobased organic material transports electrons and not ionsshe explains, specifying that there is no absolute first time, because research is built on previous knowledge.

Biodegradable sensors

It’s not that in five years microprocessors will be organicsays Ms. Santato. But there are plenty of applications for which we can think of moving towards something more respectful for the environment, for example, sensors in the oceans, where we cannot collect at the end of their life.

She cites in particular humidity and temperature detectors or oil loss from boats. We can’t get these sensors afterwards, so we have to design them degradableshe adds.

Eventually, she thinks it will be possible to develop chemical sensors and perhaps devices and integrated circuits. It nevertheless specifies that, for functions where speed is sought, silicon and inorganic materials will always win for reasons of chemical bonds.

not like siliconwill have their share”,”text”:”In other cases, organic (materials), because they are degradable, because they are flexible, because they can be printed–not like silicon–will have their part”}}”>In other cases, the [matières] organic, because they are degradable, because they are flexible, because they can be printed – not like silicon – will have their shareshe says.

Electrical and electronic waste thrown pell-mell.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment is a major problem for the planet.

Photo: gettyimages/istockphoto/akiyoko

The only downside for the moment is that the binder used – poly(vinyl butyral) (PVB) – is not biodegradable. The research team is nevertheless working to find an alternative solution that will mean that an entire electronic component based on squid ink or other bio-based materials could end its life in compost.

Other families of molecules are also studied, such as tannins for the storage of electrochemical energy and chlorophylls, which were analyzed in the 1970s and 1980s, in particular for their use in solar energy.

We have more knowledge and more sophisticated equipment in 2022 than in 1980. We manage to arrange molecules much better than 40 years ago. »

A quote from Clara Santato, professor in the Department of Engineering Physics at Polytechnique Montréal

She hopes one day that waste from the forest industry, especially in Quebec, can be used to produce electronic components.

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