Transient Electronics for Sustainable ICT in DigitaL Agriculture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering


ICT enabled cutting-edge frontier technologies such as clean energy, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), digital twin, robotics, space 2.0 technologies, smart cities, etc. present numerous innovative solutions to mitigate and combat global challenges while acting as the drivers of the global economy. At the same, these technologies have an environmental impact at each stage of their life cycle as the underpinning ICT hardware is often made with unsustainable materials, and processes. Further, at the end-of-life cycle most of the electronic hardware (up to 80%) ends up as electronic waste (e-Waste) - posing environmental and public health risks.

Recognising this double-edged nature of today's ICT, TESLA aims to bring transformative change by developing transient or time-variant electronic hardware, which will do its job (e.g., fast computing, communication etc.) well during the lifetime and continue to provide value even after its life is over. In other words, sustainable ICT manufacturing without disrupting its enabling power. For example, the electronics degrading naturally into compost. TESLA will walk a tightrope to achieve this vision and develop transformative approaches to unlock the potential of ICT in helping to monitor, adapt and mitigate global challenges, while ensuring they do not harm the people or the planet. This is not an easy task as this requires fundamental changes in the way ICT hardware is developed and used. For example, materials used for sensors and electronics will have be designed for sustainability and not just the performance (as is the standard practice today). Likewise, the fabrication processes that lead to lesser wastage, less energy and lesser use of rare earth materials will need to be developed. Further, digital agriculture has been used as test bed to validate the proposed approach as besides using degradable sensors for monitoring plants, this application is well suited to evaluate the compostability of developed degradable electronics.

TESLA's ambitious vision and proactive approach are a step ahead of the current e-Waste related policies, which are largely reactive in nature as they advocate the efficient or extended use/reuse of ICT. There is no doubt that the current policies are steps in right direction, but they are insufficient as they do not guarantee zero-waste or capture the new opportunities that potentially come with e-Waste. They simply slow down the tsunami of e-Waste. On other hand, in TESLA's vision ICT hardware will not require any e-Waste management strategy because there will be none when ICT hardware will degrade naturally.


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