A new project called called Transient Electronics for Sustainable ICT in Digital Agriculture is starting. Based in the UK and led by the University of Glasgow, it will feature input from academics in Canada, Finland, Poland and Switzerland.
Over the course of the next three years the partners will design, build and test new types of sensors made from sustainable and biodegradable natural materials powered by supercapacitors made of compostable natural materials like rice husks, proteins from wool or biodegradable polymers made of starch and cellulose. Any metals used will be chosen to be harmless to the environment, such as copper or zinc nano particles.
Project lead Professor Ravinder Dahiya, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, said: “The Internet of Things has huge potential to revolutionise every aspect of human activity, from home lives to global industry. Harnessing the power of the Internet of Things is particularly attractive in farming, where the challenges of growing crops as we adapt to the unpredictable effects of climate change will require close monitoring of fields and quick responses to problems to maximise crop yields.
“However, the proliferation of digital devices that underpin the Internet of Things will is also leading to a massive expansion in digital waste. As much as 80% of our electronic devices currently end up as waste. As potentially dangerous materials in components like batteries and printed circuit boards degrade, they create hazards to the environment and to human and animal health which can last for decades.
“What we’re setting out to do with this project is to build hardware which is designed from the start to be disposable without creating problematic waste. In fact, the waste materials from our sensors will help to grow future crops of the plants they once monitored.
“It’s an ambitious undertaking, but it brings together some of the leading experts in the field of sensor and material development from across Europe and North America. I’m confident that we can create prototypes with the potential to make real change and take us closer to achieving a zero-waste world.”
The devices will be made up of a solar-powered patch which can be applied to the surface of the leaves of crops to measure key growth indicators, and an electronic module to wirelessly transmit the information collected to a central computer.
The team will also explore how those compostable components could be powered by similarly biodegradable organic photovoltaic materials to support the monitoring of pH, temperature and bioimpedance, with energy stored in a biodegradable supercapacitor. Supercapacitors could provide a sustainable, non-toxic alternative to conventional batteries.