Korea University: Electronic waste disposal and confidential information protection solved simultaneously

Professor Hwang Suk-won’s group from the KU-KIST Graduate School of Converging Science and Technology conducted a joint study with research groups from Samsung Medical Center and Soo n Chun Hyang University to develop an electronic system that can be set to self-destruct by a user that uses organic acid and bicarbonate salt, which are nature-derived substances. The technology is expected to be applied to high-security communication and data systems related to military and governmental secrets.

The results of this study were published in the online edition of ACS Nano, an internationally prominent journal, on November 29.

The research team used an explosive gas generation reaction from the contact of citric acid, an organic acid, with sodium bicarbonate. The researchers applied the reaction to a flexible polymer substrate for electronic devices and a microfluidic system, demonstrated various forms of dissolution by water stimuli. This method enabled the research team to realize an eco-friendly electronic system of self-destruction, as the reactants and products are substances harmless to the human body and the environment.

In conventional stimuli-triggered self-destruction systems, electronic devices are destroyed through various induced stimuli, such as heat, light, electricity and solvents. While the conventional methods can rapidly destroy electronic devices, the basic reactant or products are toxic, which can cause secondary problems before and after the destruction, including environmental pollution and harmfulness to the human body. On the contrary, the research team developed basic technologies that can be applied to the rapid removal of electronic devices (within 1 minute) in situations where security is threatened without causing pollutants (e.g., Kill Switch and Boeing Black) or that can be employed in the eco-friendly disposal of electronic products without generating electronic waste.

The mechanical properties were controlled by ball milling to prepare fine organic acid and bicarbonate salt particles having a diameter of several micrometers. The resulting particles can be homogeneously mixed with flexible and stretchable polymers to manufacture various kinds of substrates. RF electronics were integrated on the composite substrate to trigger the self-destruction, which showed stable operation. In addition, the biocompatibility of the compounds that trigger the self-destruction was tested. The test results showed no significant histological or immunological difference in inflammation and tissue damage in comparison with the control group, verifying the biological stability of the triggering materials.

Professor Hwang said, “We realized an on-demand self-destruction system that is made of completely biodegradable and eco-friendly materials and that allows for active control. The system may be a solution to some current environmental issues, such as the disposal of electronic waste. In addition, we look forward to the application of our system to security systems for handling military and confidential information, providing an information leakage protection solution.”

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