A microchip made from mushroom skin

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Very often, computer chips and batteries are partly made of plastic, a poorly recycled material. A team of scientists has looked into a method to replace certain parts of these devices with… mushroom skin. This fully biodegradable material would allow better recyclability.

Electronic devices are irrevocably integrated into our lives. Yet their limited lifespan and often thoughtless disposal require sustainable designs to realize a green electronic future. “say the researchers in the introduction to their work, published in the journal Scientists progress. The authors of the study, who are part of the Johannes Kepler University, Austria, decided that their contribution to this problem would go through mushrooms. They called their approach “MycelioTronics”.

If you’re wondering what a computer chip has to do with a fungus, you might be surprised to learn that they obviously go hand in hand. As reminded by new scientistwho also devoted an article to this subject, “ all electronic circuits, made of conductive metals, must rest on an insulating and cooling base called a substrate “. It is precisely this substrate which is, in most current electronic devices, composed of plastic materials. When the electronic device reaches the end of its life, everything is simply thrown away, with no real possibility of recycling.

The substrate itself is the hardest to recycle says Martin Kaltenbrunner of Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. “ It’s also the biggest part of electronics and it’s the lowest value, so if you have some chips on it that actually have a lot of value, you might want to recycle them “. Scientists therefore attempted to use the skin of a specific fungus called Ganoderma lucidumto replace this famous substrate. Indeed, this fungus, which generally grows on decaying wood, forms a kind of “skin” to protect itself from bacteria, or other types of fungi. The researchers took it and dried it, and found that it was about the thickness of a sheet of paper, while being quite flexible. It is also a good insulator and can withstand temperatures above 200°C.

As a statement from the university states, this approach was more or less an accidental discovery, as is often the case in science “. Indeed, the university had been interested in mushrooms for a while, but ” more in other contexts, such as insulation in the construction industry and the use of mycelium-based materials as an alternative to polystyrene foam “. Accident or not, all these properties make the skin Ganoderma lucidum a good candidate for forming a substrate.

Skin that breaks down in two weeks

Plus, kept away from moisture and UV rays, it could definitely last for hundreds of years, scientists say. Of course, electronic devices don’t have this lifespan, but that means the substrate could hold up for the life of the device without any problem. Finally, this fungus skin can degrade in just two weeks if you want to get rid of it.

Formation and properties of mycelium skin.
(A) Structure of the fungus G. lucidum. The roots of the mycelium grow inside the chosen medium, with fruiting bodies forming on the surface during longer growth times. Mycelial strains are made up of hyphenated structures at the microscopic level. (Scale, 10 μm bar). (B) Concept of using mycelium skin as a substrate for electronic devices. (C) Growth of the mycelium skin on the PE separation grid and the underlying substrate. (D) Three distinct types of mycelium skin are obtained as a function of growth time. Sides A and B refer to the surface in contact with the ambient air and the separation grid, respectively. (E) ATG of all mycelium types with a constant temperature change of 0.166 K/s, revealing thermal stability over 250 °C. © Doris Danninger et al.

In order to test these possibilities, the scientists set up circuits on the skin of the mycelium. Metals (copper and gold) have also been added. They were able to see that the conductivity of the circuit was almost as good as when mounted on a standard polymer substrate. The substrate remains effective even after folding it more than 2000 times.

In particular, the researchers hope that their discovery could be used in electronic devices that are not designed to last long, in order to avoid waste. They also seek to push their research even further: one of the solutions would be to make the structure obtained naturally even more homogeneous and, finally, to place the electronic components there, which would be just as biodegradable as the support material”. Kaltenbrunner’s comment: This would then be the next step and for this the surface should be even smoother “.

Source: Scientific Advances

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