An Eco-Friendly, 3D Printable Solution for Wireless IoT Sensors

by Nicolette Emmino

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.

Image via SFU.

Simon Fraser University professor, Woo Soo Kim, is leading the research team’s discovery, which involves using wood-derived cellulose material to replace the plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics. 

3D printing provides 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 of environmental contamination,” says 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. 

According to Kim, this research 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,” he added.

Kim’s research program includes two international collaborative projects, including the latest that focuses on the eco-friendly cellulose material-based chemical sensors with collaborators from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science. 

In addition, he is collaborating with a team of South Korean researchers from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology’s (DGIST)’s Department of Robotics Engineering, and PROTEM Co Inc, a technology-based company, on the development of printable conductive ink materials. 

This second project involves a new breakthrough in the embossing process technology that can freely imprint fine circuit patterns on flexible polymer substrate, a necessary component of electronic products.

Embossing technology is applied to the mass imprinting of precise patterns at a low unit cost. However, Kim says it can only imprint circuit patterns that are imprinted beforehand on the pattern stamp, and the entire, costly stamp must be changed to put in different patterns. 

The team succeeded in developing a precise location control system that can imprint patterns directly resulting in a new process technology. The result will have widespread implications for use in semiconductor processes, wearable devices and the display industry.

Read more.

The research has been published as the cover story in the February issue of the journal Advanced Electronic Materials

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