Compounds degradable in water, a proposal to end electronic waste

Brian Adam

Most electronic gadgets, when they reach their useful life cycle or simply, when they are replaced in preference to a new one, end up in the trash.

The generation and accumulation of these wastes is not a new problem. In search of a solution, a team of scientists developed a circuit compound that disintegrates with water.


Circuit compounds that dissolve submerged in water

In order to make the recycling of small electronic products easier, a research team from the American Chemical Society developed a nanocomposite based on two metals, for use in circuits. This material stands out for its ability to disintegrate when submerged in water.

Through an article in the publication ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the researchers presented their proposal and reported that in their tests, they managed to dissolve in 40 hours the circuits of the prototype of a smartwatch, created specifically for this purpose. The image attached to this article shows the watch in its initial state in the upper half and its degraded state in the lower part.

Although the recycling of damaged parts and the reuse of particular compounds from a discarded gadget is possible, this alternative focuses on another edge of the problem. The rescue of these components requires manual intervention, piece by piece and device by device, a condition that in many cases makes this initiative unapproachable, given the volume of electronic waste that usually circulates.

To arrive at the presented proposal, the same research team, led by Xian Huang, developed a zinc-based nanocomposite for use in temporary circuits, soluble in water, but without the ability to conduct the adequate amount of energy for electrical devices. Consumer electronics.


In this new stage, the researchers modified the zinc-based nanocomposite, adding silver nanowires to it, which ensured a high potential for energy conduction. Then, they silk-screened the metallic solution on pieces of vinyl alcohol (also called poly), a polymer that degrades in water, and made the circuits solid with the application of small drops of water, which facilitate chemical reactions and then evaporate.

Under this premise, the team made a functional smartwatch, with a heart rate, blood oxygen and pedometer, with Bluetooth connectivity. Its multiple circuit boards were printed with this nanocomposite, inside a 3D printed poly box.

According to the team’s reports, during the tests carried out the outer area of ​​the watch withstood the sweat without complications, but once the entire device was completely submerged in the water, both the outer polymer case and the internal circuits dissolved. completely, after 40 hours.

The researchers suggest that the two-metal nanocomposite they presented may be useful for the production of transient-use devices, with performance that matches that of commercial models.