Education

Duke breakthrough could reduce e-waste

Posted April 29, 2021 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2021 6:39 p.m. EDT

— A team of Duke University researchers may have developed an early step toward easier recycling of electronics.

Think of all the electronic devices you’ve used in your life. You might sell an old phone when you upgrade to a new device, but it eventually becomes obsolete. There’s a good chance that all of your gadgets will end up in a landfill.

"That has led to this epidemic of e-waste," said Dr. Aaron Franklin, Addy Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University. "It’s the largest growing waste fraction in the world at present."

Franklin says we can recycle some of the pieces in electronic devices, but the silicon chips that make them work cannot be recycled. He and his lab recently made a big breakthrough that could make the world a little greener.

They created a fully functional transistor made of carbon-based inks. It is easily printed on paper and completely recyclable. This technology won’t power your iPad, but Franklin said it could be used in less demanding applications, such as environmental sensors in buildings to help regulate energy usage. He calls it an important first step toward reducing electronic waste.

"These are huge concerns that are only growing," Franklin said. "Hopefully this raises awareness of the need to continue to invest in innovation and infrastructure in this sector."

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