VTT Makes EKG Patches Biodegradable and Paves the Way to a More Sustainable Future for Wearable Electronic Devices

Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center has developed a new sustainable electrocardiogram (ECG, also known as EKG) patch that is completely recyclable and made from biomaterials. The devices are modular, so electronic components can be easily removed from single-use patches and reused. The patch itself is made of nanocellulose and is printed with a carbon conductor and a sensing electrode. The biodegradable patch is made from VTT’s new material cellulose skin, which replaces traditional plastics in wearable skin applications.

ECG patch. Finnish VTT Technical Research Center

EKG is one of the most established and popular ways to monitor heart conditions. It is used to record the heart’s electrical signals to monitor heart health and assess heart conditions. Currently, EKG patches consist of electrical components on a substrate made from fossil-based sources.

The global demand for sustainable EKG patches is projected to grow rapidly in the next few years. The global ECG patch and Holter monitor market is valued at USD 1.2 billion by 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20% from 2023 to 2030. The increasing prevalence of atrial fibrillation, aging and increasing incidence of cardiovascular disorders is further driving market demand .

The healthcare industry has one of the toughest environmental footprints, and manufacturers are increasingly faced with regulations to make products more sustainable. Bio-based substrates such as cellulose e-skin are a promising alternative to fossil-based ones. The tricky part is the fact that they have to have certain properties like malleability, tear resistance, and moisture sensitivity. We are proud to say that with cellulose e-skin, we have created a new film with great potential for use in the medical industry.” said Mohammad H. Behfar, Senior Scientist at VTT.

Health care accounts for 8% of total US emissions and remains one of the world’s largest waste generating sectors. Plastics are used in medical supplies because they are very cheap to obtain and easy to sterilize. As a result, plastic accounts for 25% of the waste generated by hospitals. 91% of plastic is not recycled and ends up in landfills or nature.

Meanwhile, in 2019, people disposed of 53 million tonnes of e-waste, and the amount will increase by 38% by 2030. The increasing demand for small-sized and wearable electronics is largely responsible for this problem as the large number of small and complex components makes recycling of these items is increasing. difficult. Less than 20% will be recycled.

Our first nanocellulose based EKG patch without plastic additives. The wider implications go beyond ECG as cellulose e-skins could be used in a wide variety of wearables in the future. The film is strong, flexible, transparent, breathable and has good printability. Other potential applications could be, for example, in printed energy harvesting and storage devices,say Aayush Jaiswal, Research Scientist at VTT.

In Europe, the key incentive to create more sustainable medical products is the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. It’s one of the main building blocks of European Gre​​​​​​en Deal, which is putting increasing pressure on manufacturers across all industries to create more sustainable products in the face of increasing environmental taxes.

VTT is currently looking to work with partners interested in the sustainable manufacturing of industrial scale wearable electronics.


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