Fraunhofer FEP on the Verge to Biodegradable Electronics

Biodegradable Electronics

If ecological awareness really is a topic, then the field of electronics is its supreme discipline – one which scientists at Fraunhofer FEP are about to conquer.

Electronics With an Expiry Date

The outcomes of science are amazing, aren’t they?! Take biodegradability, for example. What seemed to be reserved for apples or last dinner’s potatoes not only becomes relevant in electronics thanks to science, biodegradable electronics might soon be real!

For one year now, a joint team at Fraunhofer Institute has been working on biodegradable electronic components, i.e. components which completely break down in a biological environment. Just as with our apples – at least almost –, this process sets in after an expiry date which, here, is pre-defined.

Benefits for Patients With Active Medical Implants

Not only do the scientists’ efforts have a positive effect on the ecological footprint. Even more importantly, novel application areas open up which could e.g. bring relief to patients carrying active medical implants – and this is the team’s goal. Persons affected would no longer need a second surgery because their tissue would absorb the implant after the end of its operating life.

If you’re thinking ‘That sounds ambitious’ you’re definitely right. And the team is still working on their project to create components for biodegradable electronic parts (such as biodegradable conductor structures, or biodegradable thin-film transistors and circuitry). But first breakthroughs have been reported.

Vacuum Technology as Enabler for Biodegradable Components

Looking into the world of medicine, magnesium is already used as an absorbable implant due to its biodegradability and its biological compatibility. No wonder the team of Fraunhofer FEP utilizes this metal, the enabling technology being a product of Fraunhofer FEP: vacuum technology. What they did was to deposit magnesium via thermal evaporation under high vacuum conditions. However, the magnesium did not adhere sufficiently to the biodegradable polymer films it was deposited upon. Yet, the team found a way: They pre-treated the substrates using a combination of drying, plasma treatment, and utilization of seed layers. High-quality conductor structures were produced.

In the end, their vacuum technology is an enabling technology for the manufacture of biodegradable, conductive traces on biodegradable substrates in general.

What’s to Come

As mentioned, the team’s work is not at an end. In fact, it has just begun. In total, their project “bioElektron – Biodegradable Electronics for Active Implants” focuses on:

  • biodegradable conductor structures
  • biodegradable electrodes for collecting electrical signals or delivering electrical stimulation
  • biodegradable thin-film transistors and circuitry
  • biodegradable barrier coatings as moisture and gas barriers, and electrical insulation layers

These elements will be monolithically integrated into a flexible thin-film device.

We’re sure there will be more news about their progress soon.

How does the idea of wearing biodegradable electronic components sound to you? Leave us a comment!