Would you buy a biodegradable phone?

Americans, on average, replace their mobile phones every 22 months, junking more than 150 million phones a year in the process. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Even low exposure to electronic components in old mobile phones may pose serious health risks. Now researchers are on the path to creating biodegradable electronics by using organic components in screen displays.

Suchismita Guha, a professor in the physics and astronomy department at the University of Missouri, collaborated with a team from the Federal University of ABC (UFABC) in Brazil to develop organic structures that could be used to light handheld device screens. Using peptides, or proteins, researchers were able to demonstrate that these tiny structures, when combined with a blue light-emitting polymer, could successfully be used in displays.

“These peptides can self-assemble into beautiful nanostructures or nanotubes, and, for us, the main goal has been to use these nanotubes as templates for other materials,” Guha says. “By combining organic semiconductors with nanomaterials, we were able to create the blue light needed for a display.

[blue pixels on screens can now live longer]

“However, in order to make a workable screen for your mobile phone or other displays, we’ll need to show similar success with red and green light-emitting polymers.”

The scientists also discovered that by using peptide nanostructures they were able to use less of the polymer. Using less to create the same blue light means that the nanocomposites achieve almost 85 percent biodegradability.

“By using peptide nanostructures, which are 100 percent biodegradable, to create the template for the active layer for the polymers, we are able to understand how electronics themselves can be more biodegradable,” Guha says. “This research is the first step and the first demonstration of using such biology to improve electronics.”

An article in Advanced Materials Interfaces describes the work, which the National Science Foundation and CNPq supported.

Source: University of Missouri