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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 an increasing amount of electronic waste being produced, which can have a detrimental impact on the environment.
To help combat this, a team of researchers at Johannes Kepler University, Austria, has focused on developing sustainable materials to replace non-biodegradable materials in electronics.
During their investigations, the researchers made a unique discovery that mushrooms can open the door to a green electronic future. Published in the journal Science Advances, the team demonstrated a concept for using the skins of mycorrhizal fungi as biodegradable base materials for sustainable electronics production.
The team, led by Doris Danninger and Roland Bruckner of the university’s Institute for Experimental Physics, discovered that a type of fungus — typically found on decaying hardwood trees in temperate climates in regions such as Europe and East Asia — grows a protective fungal cuticle. The root-like mycorrhiza network protects fungi and wood by keeping out bacteria and other invading fungi.
Pure mycorrhizal fungi express a range of promising properties, with performance levels closer to high-performance polymeric microspheres when compared to other cultured biomaterials. Furthermore, environmentally compatible post-treatment procedures allow the material’s mechanical properties to be tuned for specific applications.
Our material, being completely biodegradable, makes possible the replacement of fossil-based and heavily processed components of electronics. We combine our innate materials with non-degradable conventional circuit components, to achieve high performance electronic devices without sacrificing sustainability.
Doris Danninger, co-author
The fungal substrate, dubbed MycelioTronics, serves as the base of an insulating circuit that cools the metal components. In conventional electronic devices, circuit bases or plates are made of non-biodegradable plastics. Fungi are completely biodegradable and can mitigate problems associated with e-waste and reduce reliance on fossil-based processed materials and ingredients.
While previous studies and developments have been performed using fungi-based materials, performance and quality have been limited. However, the team at Johannes Kepler University demonstrated a substrate that is as thin and light as paper yet able to withstand temperatures in excess of 200 degrees Celsius (392 Fahrenheit).
Our fungal skin has high thermal stability, allowing for soldering of electronic components and facilitating the fabrication of electronic sensor boards, and is not limited to planar geometry due to its shape adaptation.
Doris Danninger, co-author
Green electronic future
These properties make the mycelium-based substrate a good competitor to replace more traditional materials, opening up the possibility of using natural biological materials to obtain many high-value products.
This points to a more green future for electronic devices, as discarded electronic waste taking up space in landfills also leads to the risk of hazardous materials being sucked into the soil, which can disrupt ecosystems at a fundamental level.
Researchers at Johannes Kepler University have also proposed a way to build batteries based on fungi in their papers, because the absorbent nature of the material makes it a promising candidate for use as a sustainable battery separator.
All materials used during the study can be recycled or composted, which means that biodegradable fungus skins show excellent potential as sustainable alternative materials that can contribute to an environmentally friendly electronic future.
References and additional readings
Danninger, D.; et al. (2022) “MycelioTronics: Mycobacterial Skin for Sustainable Electronics,” Science advances8 (45). Available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.add7118