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article imageDisposing of unwanted electronics, with vinegar

By Tim Sandle     Aug 28, 2017 in Environment
The continual innovations with digital technology lead to a similar continual problem — the disposal of obsolescent items. Researchers have come up with a novel method, and it uses vinegar.
Vinegar doesn't work with all electronics but it does with a type that is part of the new generation of electronic components. These components are stretchy, thin and very light. The devices are fashioned from low-cost, non-toxic materials. The most interesting aspect is, however, that the components, when no longer required, can disappear after being placed in a relatively harmless acid, such as kitchen vinegar. After one month in acid the device has completely dissolved. The process is being offered as a solution to address the constant problem of landfill and the growing pile of unwanted electronic components. According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency only 40 percent of electronic goods are recycled in any form; some can be incinerated, but the majority go to landfill sites. There is another concern with this practice, other than one of economic inefficiency, and that is toxicity. Greenpeace notes that several toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, impacting nearby communities and the environment.
The new product has come from Stanford University in California, led by a researcher called Dr. Ting Lei. Key to the dissolvability of the device is the use of iron. A secondary part is a specific polymer that will dissolve in acid. The polymer is made of imines (a chemical compound containing a carbon–nitrogen double bond). Cellulose is then used to hold everything together.
There are other applications for the new devices. Science News points out that the devices could be used as sensors to take readings in remote forests. Since most soils are acidic, when the devices reach the end of their life they would fall to the ground and be dissolved. Alternatively, medical devices implanted into patients would eventually dissolve away, avoiding the need to physically remove the dioceses and thereby reducing surgical procedure risks.
The new device is described in the journal PNAS, with the paper titled "Biocompatible and totally disintegrable semiconducting polymer for ultrathin and ultralightweight transient electronics."
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