A research team including two faculty members from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a sustainable manufacturing system for the production of advanced electronic devices.
The NSF research grant will provide $9.15 million in funding over five years, enabling researchers from five institutions to work toward the development of printable biodegradable electronic devices. Participating institutions include UChicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Chicago, and Iowa State University.
Junhong Chen, Crown Family Professor of Molecular Engineering at Pritzker Molecular Engineering and lead water strategist at Argonne National Laboratory, will serve as principal investigator of the eco-manufacturing research project. The full title of the grant supporting the project is "Future Manufacturing Research Grant (FMRG): Manufacturing ADvanced Electronics through Printing Using Bio-based and Locally Identifiable Compounds (MADE-PUBLIC)."
Chen said he wants to help create a sustainable, scalable, and democratized manufacturing system. Through an open-source platform, people could print their own low-cost, biodegradable, and recyclable electronic devices at home.
“The project was partly motivated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as printing of personal protective equipment (PPE) has helped meet the challenges associated with the disruption of supply chains,” said Chen.
Stuart Rowan, Barry L. MacLean Professor for Molecular Engineering Innovation and Enterprise at PME with a joint appointment at Argonne, serves as a co-principal investigator. For Rowan, the interdisciplinary nature of the project is an important strength. “This is a very diverse team of great researchers, from plant scientists to chemists and materials scientists to machine learning and sustainability experts.”
The research team aims to figure out how to obtain nanomaterials from plants in order to develop bio-based inks, which could be used to manufacture biodegradable batteries and sensors. This would lower device costs and make the supply chain more resilient during disruptions (like a pandemic).
The project could lead to scientific advances in three areas: precision growth of plants, manufacturing of tailored bio-based inks, and sustainable production of printable electronics.