A technological difficulty arises from powering the growing number of sensor nodes used in the Internet of Things. Due to the cost and environmental concerns of battery powered gadgets, wireless operation and eco-friendly circuit innovations are required. Large electronics, which can be based on organic semiconductors, amorphous metal oxide semiconductors, semiconducting carbon nanotubes and two-dimensional semiconductors, could offer a solution.

A new study supports this idea, suggesting that emerging alternative semiconductors that are printable, low cost and environmentally friendly could pave the way to a cheaper and more sustainable IoT.

A multinational team of top printable electronics experts led by Simon Fraser University Professor Vincenzo Pecunia explored the potential of large-scale electronics technology in developing sustainable, wirelessly powered Internet of Things sensor nodes. By equipping everyday objects and environments with intelligence through smart sensors, more informed decisions can be made.

To enable self-powered, eco-friendly smart sensors, the team identified key priorities and possible avenues for printed electronics. Because printable semiconductors can be manufactured by printing or coating, which use significantly less energy and materials than conventional semiconductor technologies, they can provide electronics with a much lower environmental footprint and cost than conventional semiconductor technologies.

Pecunia says creating printable electronics that can operate using energy from the environment – for example, from ambient light or ubiquitous radio frequency signals – could be the answer.

“Our analysis shows that a top priority is to realize printable electronics with the smallest possible material set to streamline their manufacturing process, making the technology easy to scale up and deploy at low cost.”

The study also highlights a vision of printed electronics that can power ubiquitous mobile signals through innovative low-power approaches. This allows smart sensors to be charged from scratch.

Pecunia said, “Based on recent breakthroughs, we anticipate that printable semiconductors can play a key role in realizing the full sustainability potential of the Internet of Things by providing self-powered sensors for smart homes, smart buildings and smart cities, as well as manufacturing and industry.”

The team is currently developing semiconductor technologies that can seamlessly integrate electronics, sensors and energy harvesters at the touch of a ‘print’ button at separate manufacturing sites. This will reduce the environmental footprint, supply chain issues and energy costs associated with long-distance transportation in conventional electronics manufacturing.

Pecunia said, “Our hope is that these semiconductors will deliver environmentally friendly technologies for a future of clean energy generation and sustainable living, which are essential to achieving Canada’s net-zero goal.”

Magazine reference:

  1. Portilla, L., Loganathan, K., Faber, H. et al. Large area, wirelessly powered electronics for the Internet of Things. Wet Electron (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41928-022-00898-5