Conductive bioplastic hints at future of biodegradable electronics

Italian firm Bio-on’s bioplastic — which is totally biodegradable and made from sugar cane waste — can now become an electroconductor. It means that one day in the future, all those tonnes of discarded smartphones piling up in our landfills…

Italian firm Bio-on’s bioplastic — which is totally

biodegradable and made from sugar cane waste — can now become an
electroconductor. It means that one day in the future, all those
tonnes of discarded smartphones piling up in our landfills could be
obsolete. Even our electronics will be at least partially
biodegradable.“The biopolymer that will probably replace traditional plastic
can become an electroconductor by applying nanotubes containing
graphene,” Bio-on CEO
Marco Astorri announced at the Maker Faire in Rome, which
Wired.co.uk attended. “Plastic can be a bioconductor, which opens
up amazing scenarios. We can create materials that can be put in
plants or human bodies, because they can be biodegradable. It can
be paper — electroconductiive plastic used for flexible and
thinner devices. The world of smartphones will become thinner and
they will become part of our body. This is what we’ve done. This is
life after plastic.” Astori began working on the project back in 2007 when he was
tasked with finding something to replace the plastic in silicon
chips. It was through this research, he says, that he fell in love
with the idea of trying to find a replacement in nature. “We started finding patterns around the world while trying to
find the answer to creating real bioplastics. Over a whole year we
found incredible hidden things. It’s possible to use agricultural
waste to create biopolymers, for instance. We had a molasses that
is used to create alcohol and realised that bacteria, in a natural
way through fermentation, are able to produce energy.” The
bacterium holds energy reserves, stored in polymeric chains.“These chains can actually reproduce any type of plastic
obtained today from fuel.”The resulting bioplastic Bio-On created, Minerva-PHA, will
dissolve in water or soil after a few days.Bio-on went on to make a replacement of polycarbonate and other
plastics, using bacteria and no solvents.“Chemistry of the future comes from nature,” reasserted Astorri.
“We’ve realised by copying nature we can develop incredible
things.”The conductive bioplastic announced by Bio-on at the Faire is
made by integrating graphene nanotubes into their existing
bioplastics.

“The use of bioplastics will not be restricted to smartphones
and tablets,” said Astorri. “We can extend it to highly advanced
technological sectors, thanks to the multiple features of our
bioplastics, their outstanding technical performance and excellent
biocompatibility. In the future this will also enable us to develop
sensors and electro-medical equipment for healthcare.”