In a quest to make electronic devices more environmentally friendly, researchers have created an electronic skin that can be completely recycled. The e-skin can also heal itself if it’s torn apart.
Electronic skin is basically a thin film equipped with sensors that can measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and air flow. The film is made of three commercially available compounds mixed together in a matrix and laced with silver nanoparticles: when the e-skin is cut in two, adding the three compounds to the “wound” allows the e-skin to heal itself by recreating chemical bonds between the two sides. That way, the matrix is restored and the e-skin is as good as new. If the e-skin is broken beyond repair, it can just be soaked in a solution that “liquefies” it so that the materials can be reused to make new e-skin. One day, this electronic skin could be used in prosthetics, robots, or smart textiles.
So if the e-skin is severely damaged, or you’re just done with it, it can be recycled using a “recycling solution.” This solution dissolves the matrix into small molecules, allowing the silver nanoparticle to sink to the bottom. All materials can then be reused to create another patch of functioning e-skin. The whole recycling takes about 30 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) or 10 hours at room temperature. The healing happens even faster: within a half hour at room temperature, or within a few minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), says Jianliang Xiao study co-author.