Written by Ana P., Andreia dos S., João R., Yoni E.
Paper-based electronic devices developed by AlmaScience offer a broad range of new possibilities to use paper as a low E-waste, cost-effective universal digital input device which can be deployed over large areas.
Conventional electronics based on silicon chips bare a heavy e-waste burden. The 53.6 million tons of e-waste discarded in 2019, from which only 17.4 % were recycled, are expected to increase to 74.7 million tons by 2030. Even though the recycling rates can (and should) improve, recycling is not always done in the most ethical way. For example, some companies export their e-waste to developing countries, where people need to manually disassemble them without adequate safety gear and are subjected to toxic materials exposure in the process. In this context, chipless paper electronics rises as an eco-friendly alternative with brighter perspectives when it comes to both production and its end-of-life. Manufacturing is simple and maybe done locally, using sustainable and non-polluting paper and printing production methods, so no overseas shipping is required. Moreover, when the product reaches its end of life, it can be disposed of without releasing toxic components, or recycled through the well-established processes employed in the recycling of common paper. In fact, paper is the most recycled material in Europe, and 74% of all consumed paper and board was recycled in 2020, which saved water (less 7000 gallons of water per 1 ton of recycled paper), energy (less 68 % when compared to making paper from virgin materials), and landfill space.
Paper electronics offer much more than just sustainability. Since no complex and highly specialized fabrication plants are needed to produce these devices, they are expected to be considerably more cost-effective. The holy grail of these devices may be the mass printing of miniaturized functional devices such as chipless wireless devices and various detectors/sensing elements, and complex structures involving multiple electronics elements to enable a new generation of paper based IoT devices. For example, smart paper tags can be attached to a product during the supply chain and alert on location and condition, or even a complete printed lab on a chip with a detection element and a communication element. However, until this is realized, more simple paper-based electronic devices can still be exploited for disruptive applications or otherwise for existing applications with improved sustainability.
The proprietary PaperWeight digital™ family of technologies developed by AlmaScience is making use of electronically active biopolymers which are incorporated into paper, cork, or textiles, to create functional devices which are sensitive to mechanical stimuli, like pressure, bending, and torsion. Considering that these devices are mostly composed of paper (or otherwise textile or cork), their main advantage, except being ~100 % sustainable of course, is that they can be produced locally and cost-effectively in large rolls, and can therefore be employed over large areas, such as an entire floor area, entire rows of shelves, whole walls, or other areas of interest. As the technology is based on cellulose materials, its roll-to-roll production can be achieved without compromising its sustainability.
Applications for such technologies are immensely diverse, as the PaperWeight digital™ can serve as a universal input device. Therefore, it may be used in medical devices as a native sensing layer, cover an entire floor of a supermarket or a mall to monitor the buying patterns of shoppers, or to create any form of input device that can be thought of. Imagine the drums you always wanted to make music with; you can get them simply by putting the paper in the printer and choosing an image of a drum set, which will sound like the real instrument with the help of a dedicated software. Paper was used by humanity for so many things throughout history. Apparently, its future is in electronics!
To learn more and for partnerships contact
Dr. Yoni Engel
Business Development Manager