Scientists Take a Byte Out of E-Waste with New Mushroom Chip

Dec 1, 2022

Can you say “Ganoderma lucidum” out loud? It’s not the words of a magic spell — but it could have a big impact. It’s a species of mushroom. Scientists found that it forms a skin. They showed the skin could be a biodegradable replacement for an important part in electronic devices. 

A research team in Austria is focused on getting rid of electronic waste (e-waste). That led them to Ganoderma lucidum. They found that this fungus forms a mycelium skin. When dried, the skin is paper-thin, flexible, and a good insulator. It can handle temperatures higher than 290 degrees Fahrenheit. These qualities set it apart from other biodegradable materials. They make the skin a good substrate, the researchers found. 

In electronics, a substrate is the base of a circuit inside things like batteries and computer chips. A substrate insulates and cools the metals on top of it. It’s usually made from plastics and thrown out after use. This adds to the world’s 55 million tons of annual e-waste. Only 20% of it is formally recycled, according to a 2019 report co-authored by the United Nations. E-waste is on track to hit 132 million annual tons by 2050, says the same report.

The mushroom skin substrate lasts a long time when kept dry. However, it breaks down in a compost pile in two weeks or less. 

“Most importantly,” one of the study's co-authors told CNN, “it can simply be grown from waste wood.” It doesn't cost a lot of money to make. The process doesn't use a lot of energy, either.  

Photo by Nina Filippova courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Which of the following quotes from the article best describes the issue that the scientists behind the biodegradable chips hope to help address? (Common Core RI.5.5; RI.6.5)
a. "They showed the skin could be a biodegradable replacement for an important part in electronic devices."
b. “They make the skin a good substrate, the researchers found.”
c. “E-waste is on track to hit 132 million annual tons by 2050, says the same report.”
d. “In electronics, a substrate is the base of a circuit inside things like batteries and computer chips.”
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