Researchers Develop Cellulose-Based, 3D Printed IoT Sensors

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Green technology is looking a little brighter as Canadian, Swiss, and South Korean researchers are working to use wood-derived cellulose material and 3D printing to create eco-friendly Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that can be disposed of without environmental impacts.
“This novel wireless chemical sensing platform technology will usher various sensing applications such as biomedical or environmental detection,” the research authors noted in the Advanced Electronics Materials article discussing their success.

Changing the Market
3D printed cellulose sensors could help the industry meet sustainability goals by replacing the use of plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics. Simon Fraser University professor Woo Soo Kim noted these sensors could reduce waste from printed circuit boards (PCB), which is an environmental hazard.
“If we are able to change the plastics in PCB to cellulose composite materials, recycling of metal components on the board could be collected in a much easier way,” Kim said.
Along with the environmental benefits, the 3D printing approach offers greater flexibility to add or embed functions. The printing innovation is critical to enabling flexibility for technology. Currently, embossing technology is a low-cost but limited approach to imprinting circuit patterns; patterns cannot be changed without investing in a new embossing stamp. The breakthrough technology directly imprints the patterns on the cellulose material. Science Daily noted, “This will have widespread implications for use in semiconductor processes, wearable devices, and the display industry.”
Kim’s team is working with Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science to develop the eco-friendly cellulose material-based chemical sensors, and with researchers from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) and PROTEM Co. Inc., a technology-based company, to develop the printable conductive ink materials.

Implications of Sustainable IoT Sensors
However, cellulose printing is not the novel aspect of this breakthrough; MIT researchers announced in 2017 their success with printing cellulose. The major news here is the possibility that IoT sensors can become more sustainable as the demand increases.
A major component of wood and paper, cellulose is an attractive alternative as “it’s inexpensive, bio-renewable, biodegradable, and also very chemically versatile,” according to MIT’s study.
The demand is growing for IoT sensors to manage and monitor functions; Kim’s project proves that cellulose sustainability and the flexibility of additive manufacturing can be paired to support the convenience of wireless communication. 

Image Credit: Simon Fraser University