The new technology works by setting off a heat-trigger inside the device which cues the self-destruct process to take place. The team of researchers also developed a way for the device users to remotely initiate a radio-controlled trigger inside electronic devices which would cause the devices to self-destruct on demand.
The two methods for device self-destruction will greatly decrease the amount of electronics which are quickly consuming landfills all over the world. As most devices are just thrown away, they ultimately end up occupying space inside landfills and then take years upon years to fully degrade. In most cases, these electronic devices are harmful to the environment and pose a major problem for any hopes of sustainability.
The team of researchers were led by Scott White, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and John Rogers, a Swanlund chair in Materials Science and Engineering. Mr Rogers is also the Director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Laboratory at Illinois. The researchers were split into two groups, each led by White and Rogers specifically to focus on different aspects of creating the new self-destructing devices methodology. After the hard work was complete, the research group had developed two methods for a device to successfully self-destruct.
The first method, a heat-activated self-destructing process, works by the way the device is built. This method uses magnesium circuits printed on extremely thin, flexible materials. The team then trapped microscopic droplets of a weak acid in wax and use this wax to coat the device. When the devices are heated, the wax melts, releases the acid, and the acid dissovles the electronic device completely.
For the second method, a remotely-activated trigger causes a device to self-destruct. For this, the team placed a radio-frequency receiver and an inductive heating coil inside the device. The device user then sends a signal to the device which will cause the coil to heat up and melt the wax coating the device, effectivley dissolving the electronic device entirely.
The researchers are able to control precisely how fast a device degrades simply by adjusting the thickness of the wax, the concentration of the acid and the temperature. They can design a device to self-destruct within 20 seconds to a couple of minutes after heat is applied. The devices also can degrade in sequential steps. This is possible by the researchers encasing different parts of the devices in waxes with varying melting temperatures. This provides the possibility for a device to effectively sense and respond to environmental changes.
Professor Scott White stated, “We have demonstrated electronics that are there when you need them and gone when you don’t need them anymore. This is a way of creating sustainability in the materials that are used in modern-day electronics. This was our first attempt to use an environmental stimulus to trigger destruction.”
This is an outstanding achievement by all the researchers whose hard work contributed. This advancement is one that will greatly reduce the ever-growing amount of electronic waste present in todays world. Device manufacturers will soon have a way to develop electronic devices and manufacture necessary electronic replacement parts that are environmentally sustainable.
To learn more about this amazing achievement read the University of Illinois article here.
The Researchers published their finished work in the Journal of Advanced Materials Science.