These Eco-Friendly Computers Might Be Made of Honey

Sweet circuits that don’t spoil

  • Researchers have built a proof-of-concept device that includes circuits manufactured from honey. 
  • There’s a growing effort to slash the vast amounts of waste generated by the electronics industry. 
  • The O Project led by Dell is looking into using polymers from bamboo and cornstarch for its computer skin.
resource recovery specialist checking computer components conditions in recycling plant

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Your PC could one day be manufactured from honey in a bid to make computing faster and more eco-friendly. 

Researchers at Washington State University have built a proof-of-concept device that includes circuits manufactured from the sweet stuff made by bees. It's part of a growing effort to slash the vast amounts of waste generated by the electronics industry. 

"Sustainability and biodegradability aren't just important now; they're essential," Milica Vojnic, an electronics waste expert with the technology recycling company Wisetek, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Reuse and recycling programs are hugely important and will remain to do so, but there are organizations worldwide that are actively creating computer products that will naturally break down over time."

Sweet, Sweet Computing

Researchers claim honey might be a tasty solution for developing environmentally friendly components. The substance is meant for neuromorphic computers, systems designed to mimic the neurons and synapses found in the human brain that are faster and use less power than traditional computers. 

"Sustainability and biodegradability aren’t just important now; they’re essential."

In a recent study, the scientists showed that honey could be used to make a memristor, a component similar to a transistor that can process and store data in memory.

"This is a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionalities to a human neuron," Feng Zhao, associate professor of WSU's School of Engineering and Computer Science and corresponding author of the study, said in the news release. "This means if we can integrate millions or billions of these honey memristors together, then they can be made into a neuromorphic system that functions much like a human brain."

For the study, Zhao and his team created memristors by processing honey into a solid form and sandwiching it between two metal electrodes, making a structure similar to a human synapse. They then tested the honey memristors' ability to mimic the work of synapses with high switching on and off speeds of 100 and 500 nanoseconds, respectively.

Saving the Planet

Biodegradable computers could help address the global problem of rapidly accumulating electronic waste, some of which contain potentially toxic materials, Michael Clarke, a sustainability expert, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"Because the components can decompose in a reasonable period, the cost of recycling and end-of-life management can be reduced or removed," Clarke said. 

A host of new projects are trying to make computers more sustainable, Clarke pointed out. The O Project led by Dell is looking at using polymers from bamboo and cornstarch for its computer skin. There's also the Lawn PC, designed by David Veldkamp, that seeks to generate and run on its own harnessed power from recyclable grass blades with circuits and solar cells. 

Technician repairing motherboard

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Another concept in the works is the Lifebook Leaf, a laptop with a thin OLED touchscreen that can be folded like a laptop or spread out flat. The exterior is made of a shatterproof and optically sensitive polycarbonate that doubles as a solar cell. 

London-based start-up Pentaform has designed an all-in-one keyboard-based computer system, the Abacus, which is nearly 65 percent smaller than the average desktop unit and claims to be energy efficient. It’s made from an environmentally friendly, biodegradable polymer and even comes packaged in a mushroom-based container which again will fully degrade.

More unusual types of computers could get recyclable, as well. In conventional chip manufacturing, electronic components like transistors are made on the surface of a rigid wafer from a semiconducting material such as silicon. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin made the electronic components using a transparent, wood-derived material as a surface for flexible electronics.

Many scientists, including Zhao's team, are continuing the search for biodegradable and renewable solutions. Zhao is also leading investigations into using proteins and other sugars such as those found in Aloe vera leaves in this capacity, but he sees strong potential in honey.

"Honey does not spoil," he said. "It has a very low moisture concentration, so bacteria cannot survive in it. This means these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time."

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