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Phones from the future: foldable and fully recyclable

A group of Australian experts has invented a semiconductor that could open the door to a new generation of ‘flexible’ and 100% recyclable electronic devices – such as foldable smartphones.

Australia produces 200 000 tonnes of e-waste every year, according to researchers at the Australia National University. They stress that barely 5% of this quickly growing waste stream is recycled. At the same time, sales of smartphones are rapidly increasing. Almost 9.5 million mobile phones were sold in Australia last year and there are already some 20 million registered mobile users.

Eager to boost e-cycling practices, a team of researchers and engineers at Australia’s National University (ANU) developed a semiconductor with organic and inorganic materials that can convert electricity into light ‘very efficiently’. Besides that, the semiconductor is ultrathin and flexible enough to help make devices such as mobile phones bendable.

Samsung is developin a phone with flexible display as well.

The organic component – made from carbon and hydrogen – has the thickness of just one atom and forms part of the semiconductor that the ANU team developed. The inorganic component has the thickness of around two atoms. The hybrid structure can convert electricity into light sufficient for displays on mobile phones, televisions and other electronic devices.

High-performance possibility

The invention will enable the production of high-performance electronic devices made with organic materials that will be biodegradable or that can be easily recycled, says ANU associate professor Larry Lu. He believes this ‘breakthrough’ will help substantially reduce the volume of e-scrap produced.

‘For the first time, we have developed an ultra-thin electronics component with excellent semiconducting properties that is an organic-inorganic hybrid structure and thin and flexible enough for future technologies, such as bendable mobile phones and display screens,’ Lu comments.

Additionally, PhD researcher Ankur Sharma says that experiments have demonstrated the performance of their semiconductor would be ‘much more efficient’ than conventional semiconductors using inorganic materials such as silicon. ‘We have the potential with this semiconductor to make mobile phones as powerful as today’s supercomputers,’ he adds.

ANU Researcher Ankur Sharma and associate professor Larry Lu

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