Nanowires can be retrieved and recycled from end-of-life electronic devices with a new method devised at North Carolina State University. The low-cost technique promises to reduce the volumes of electronic waste requiring disposal and to repurpose critical material resources.

The technique extracts a silver nanowire network from the discarded device. The components obtained are disassembled into a collection of separate silver nanowires in solution formulated to dissolve polymer matrices. The remaining nanowire networks are placed in a separate solvent solution and subjected to ultrasound to disperse the nanowires, which can be used to design a new network for inclusion in a new electronic product.

A wearable health sensor patch composed of silver nanowire networks embedded in a polymer material was designed to demonstrate the recycling system. The researchers dissolved the polymer in water, removed and deconstructed the nanowire network into a collection of individual nanowires, and then used those nanowires to assemble a new wearable sensor.

Minor degradation in the properties of the nanowire network was observed after each life cycle, but the nanowires could be recycled four times without degrading sensor performance.

A paper detailing this research is published in Advanced Electronic Materials.

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