09-04-2021 | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, UK company PragmatIC has been awarded £1.3m by the UK government to implement a recycling scheme using their FlexIC technology. Who is PragmatIC, what technology do they develop, and how will the grant help to tackle pollution?
PragmatIC are a UK-based company that develops flexible electronics and is headquartered in Cambridge. Their main goal is to create an industry that allows engineers to easily embed electronics into everyday devices while providing smart capabilities. While many devices already contain electronics, there are far more applications than electronics cannot simply be used in due to the ridged nature of electronics.
To solve this issue, PragmatIC have developed patented technology to create fully flexible integrated circuits that do not use a solid silicon substrate but instead a flexible substrate. As such, their ICs are entirely flexible, are cheaper to manufacture than standard ICs, and can provide a viable solution for disposable electronics.
Furthermore, their production facility allows for 100x lower capital investment than standard foundries, has a 100x smaller footprint, and a 100x faster production cycle. All devices produced by PragmatIC can have unique IDs, be preprogrammed, and are compatible with high-speed industry-standard assembly.
Recycling of materials is a multi-dimensional challenge that faces problems from all directions. For example, recycling materials such as plastics need to be correctly organised as some materials are not fully recyclable, or require different processes. Recycling also faces challenges from people not bothering to recycle materials and instead prefer to throw all rubbish into the same bin.
To tackle this problem, PragmatIC have been awarded a £1.3m grant from the UK government to start a scheme that will attach their flexible ICs and NFC tags onto product packaging. From there, users will be encouraged to collect and hand back recyclable materials with the use of an incentive scheme (such as money or points).
The use of such tags can also provide a whole other range of advantages. To start, each tag can be given a UID which allows for packaging to be tracked. From there, the journey of the waste can be estimated, and this may provide valuable data as to the life cycle of rubbish. Secondly, the use of UID also allows for that data to be linked to an online database that describes the packaging and what it is made from. Thus, a facility can properly organise waste by identifying the contents and type of material coming through.
The use of NFC tags to track packaging will not only help to improve the environment but for wildlife that resides in the environment too. Plastic waste is becoming a serious concern for the environment, arguably more worrying than global warming. The planet warming a degree in the next 100 years may cause the sea to rise, but plastic in the food chain is already showing up in humans as a result of eating animals who themselves have consumed microplastics.
Furthermore, the use of a tagging system combined with an incentive system will effectively remove the need for a tax on waste. Instead, the price of products increases as a result of the tagging system, but the returning of packaging can negate the price increase, thereby putting the responsibility of recycling fully on the consumer.
There will be those who do not want to recycle, but this could provide a source of income for landfills that, in theory, could use NFC to scan rubbish for recyclable materials, gather it, and then ship that to a recycling facility.