Decreasing Consumption, Reducing Waste

ISE professor Jingyan Dong is part of the $3M NSF grant research team that is exploring the eco-manufacturing of soft electronics

Understanding all aspects of a product’s life cycle is an essential part of its creation. The handling of its conception, production and eventual disposal all need to be thoroughly examined. Because of the hazardous nature of their waste, the life cycle of electronics is problematic and impacts our environment, health, and economy. Electronics are an essential part of our daily lives. The continuous introduction of new products to consumers results in the rapid consumption of the rare materials needed to build these goods. Also, as people upgrade their devices, they discard their old electronics creating excessive amounts of electronic waste (e-waste).

To improve the consumption rates of raw materials and reduce waste production in the electronics industry, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the $3 million Future Manufacturing Research Grant (FMRG) to a team of NC State engineers. Yong Zhu, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, leads the team, including ISE’s Jingyan Dong and others. They plan to further their research into soft electronics and eco-manufacturing. “The project will develop new classes of soft electronics that are created from renewable materials using energy-efficient manufacturing processes, and that can either be degraded naturally or repurposed into high-value products after their lifetime,” Dong explained.

The team will work on five key areas:

  • Materials development
  • Eco-manufacturing
  • Biodegradation/recycling
  • Environmental and economic life-cycle assessment
  • Education and workforce development

Dong will be developing a new eco-manufacturing framework for both education and workforce development. Here he will explore multiple printing processes to enable a scalable creation of recyclable soft electronics.

ISE students will also be involved in this project. “Ph.D. students from my group will explore printing-based scalable manufacturing processes for device fabrication,” Dong said. “They will collaborate with students from other disciplines to develop the eco-manufacturing framework for the production of recyclable soft electronics.”

With the knowledge gained through the FMRG, the team hopes to create a diverse cohort of future engineers and scientists. This group will be able to tackle challenges related to eco-manufacturing and may even be able to change the life cycle of such a significant product for the better.