Biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based are fast becoming terms that manufacturers and consumers alike are looking for as the general population becomes more environmentally conscious.
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In today’s world, where electronics and digital technology are becoming increasingly important in every aspect of daily life, there is a growing amount of E-Waste being generated, which can have a detrimental impact on the environment.
To help combat this, a team of researchers at Johannes Kepler University, Austria, has been focusing on the development of sustainable materials to replace nondegradable materials in electronics.
During their investigations, the researchers made a unique discovery that mushrooms could open the door to a green electronic future. Published in the journal Science Advances, the team demonstrated a concept for using fungal mycelium skins as a biodegradable substrate material to produce sustainable electronics.
Led by Doris Danninger and Roland Pruckner from the University’s Institute for Experimental Physics, the team discovered that a species of mushroom – usually found on decaying hardwood trees in temperate climates in areas such as Europe and East Asia – grow a protective mycelium skin. This root-like rhizomatic mycelium network protects the fungi and the wood by keeping bacteria and other invading fungi out.
Pure fungus mycelium expresses a range of properties that show great promise, with performance levels closer to high-performance polymer microfoams when compared to other as-grown biomaterials. Moreover, environmentally compatible posttreatment procedures allow the material’s mechanical properties to be tuned for specific applications.
Our material, being entirely biodegradable, therefore renders the replacement of fossil-based and heavily processed components of electronics feasible. We couple our fungus material with conventional nondegradable circuit components, achieving high-functionality electronic devices without sacrificing sustainability.
Doris Danninger, Co-Author
Termed MycelioTronics, the mycelium substrate acts as an insulating circuit base that cools the metal components. In conventional electronic devices, the circuit bases, or boards, are constructed of non-biodegradable plastic materials. Mycelium is completely biodegradable and could alleviate problems associated with e-waste and reduce the reliance on fossil-based processed materials and components.
While previous studies and developments using mycelium-based materials have been conducted, performance and quality have been limited. However, the team at Johannes Kepler University demonstrated a substrate that is as thin and light as paper but able to withstand temperatures in excess of 200 °C (392 F).
Our mycelium skin exhibits high thermal stability, allowing soldering of electronic components and facilitating the fabrication of electronic sensor boards, not restricted to planar geometry due to its shape adaptiveness.
Doris Danninger, Co-Author
Green Electronic Future
These properties make the mycelium-based substrate a good contender for replacing more conventional materials, opening up the potential to use natural biological materials to obtain multiple high-value products.
This points to a more environmentally compatible future for electronic devices as discarded e-waste taking up space in landfill also runs the risk of leeching hazardous materials into the soil, which can disrupt ecosystems at the base level.
The researchers at Johannes Kepler University also propose a method for the construction of mycelium-based batteries in their paper, as the absorbent nature of the material makes it a promising candidate for use as a sustainable battery separator.
All the materials used during the study can either be recycled or composted, meaning biodegradable mycelium skins demonstrate excellent potential as sustainable alternative materials that could contribute to a green electronic future.
References and Further Reading
Danninger, D. et al. (2022) “MycelioTronics: Fungal mycelium skin for sustainable electronics,” Science Advances, 8(45). Available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.add7118