WARF: P150290US01

New Biodegradable Integrated Circuits Signal the Future of E-Waste Management


Zhenqiang Ma, Yei Hwan Jung, Shaoqin Gong, Tzu-Hsuan Chang

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is seeking commercial partners interested in developing biodegradable microwave electronics that can be used in consumer devices like smart phones and tablets, as well as methods for their production.
OVERVIEWElectronic waste management remains an ongoing challenge both domestically and abroad. Scrap components of electronics such as computers, cellphones and refrigerators contain high amounts of heavy metals and hazardous materials like lead, cadmium, tin, gallium arsenide (GaAs) and brominated flame retardants.

While programs exist for recycling components and separating precious metals, 50-80 percent of waste products are exported to developing countries and openly burned or, in the case of the United States, left in landfills at a rate of 2 million tons per year.
THE INVENTIONUW–Madison researchers have developed substantially biodegradable microwave integrated circuits and methods for their manufacture.

The circuits utilize cellulose nanofibril (CNF) thin-film paper rather than GaAs (a toxic semiconductor) as their principle substrate, minimizing amounts of potentially toxic inorganic materials. The CNF, which is derived from wood, is coated with a hydrophobic polymer to resist water and solvents while remaining readily degradable by common forest fungi.

Key electrical components, including a group III-V semiconductor, are formed on a standard substrate, which can be reused, and then transferred to the flexible, transparent and biodegradable CNF paper. The resulting circuits substantially reduce the levels of toxic materials introduced into the environment when they are discarded.
  • Biodegradable electronics
  • Flexible/wearable electronics
  • Smartphones and tablets
  • CNF is biodegradable, flexible, transparent and has desirable electrical properties.
  • Exhibits excellent high frequency performance
  • Comparable to existing state-of-the-art electronics
  • Reduces electronic waste
  • Minimizes costs associated with e-waste management
  • Reduces the use of costly and hazardous materials like GaAs
STAGE OF DEVELOPMENTThe assembly of thin-film microwave devices with excellent high frequency performance has been demonstrated using this technique.
For More Information About the Inventors
  • Jung et al. 2015. High-Performance Green Flexible Electronics Based on Biodegradable Cellulose Nanofibril Paper. Nat. Commun. 6.
  • Hwang et al. 2013. Materials for Bioresorbable Radio Frequency Electronics. Adv. Mater. 25, 3526–3531.
  • Read a news story about this technology.
Contact Information
For current licensing status, please contact Jeanine Burmania at or 608-960-9846.
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Since its founding in 1925 as the patenting and licensing organization for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, WARF has been working with business and industry to transform university research into products that benefit society. WARF intellectual property managers and licensing staff members are leaders in the field of university-based technology transfer. They are familiar with the intricacies of patenting, have worked with researchers in relevant disciplines, understand industries and markets, and have negotiated innovative licensing strategies to meet the individual needs of business clients.