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Electronic Food: enabling edible electronic systems for biomedical and food monitoring applications

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ELFO (Electronic Food: enabling edible electronic systems for biomedical and food monitoring applications)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-02-28

ELFO will provide the foundations of a new enabling technology for disruptive edible electronic systems, with applications in advanced biomedical devices for continuous monitoring of the health status within the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, as well as in electronic tags for food monitoring, serving public health and providing at the same time a very powerful tool against counterfeiting. These systems will be unperceivable and mass produced mainly with mask-less, printing and direct-writing methods. Besides being completely safe for ingestion, such devices will also be perceived as food, favouring public acceptance. Such an ambitious plan will be implemented by: i) creating knowledge on electronic properties of food and food derivatives and complementing them with edible solution-processable, mainly carbon-based semiconductors, thus developing an extended library of edible electronic materials; ii) developing large-area, solution-based, printing and direct-writing scalable processes with high lateral resolution for the precise patterning of edible functional materials; iii) developing edible electronic components required in systems, from logic to power and sensors; iv) validating the progress with two proof-of-concept systems, an edible radio-frequency pill with controlled drug delivery, answering the need for compliance monitoring devices and actuators within the gut, and an edible passive food Radio-Frequency identification tag, answering the need for certification and anti-counterfeiting devices directly onto or into food products. ELFO will give solid engineering grounds to the visionary perspectives of edible electronics, introducing imperceptible intelligence in any edible item, thus accessing more information on what we eat, how it is assimilated and enabling biomedical devices for mass health screening.
- A perspective for the field of edible electronics was written and published.
The newly minted field of edible electronics, while at an embryonic stage, is creating great scientific resonance by envisioning a technology which is safe for ingestion, environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and degraded within the body after performing its function, either digested or even metabolized. Yet there is no shared approach, and the field is currently unified only by the use of food-derived or edible synthetic functional materials. In order to help shape the field more consistently, the main ideas and perspectives that have been proposed in the recent past were critically curated, underlining what edible electronics is and will be in the future according to our vision. Long-term opportunities in terms of environmentally friendly smart technologies, remote healthcare monitoring, and the formidable challenges ahead were discussed, covering major issues with respect to safety, materials approval, processing, power supply, communication, and human body interaction. A key point in moving toward such a vision is a strong interdisciplinary cooperation, which was highly encouraged.

- Honey-Gated Complementary Organic Transistors and Circuits
Dielectrics are a critical functional element of transistors, often constituting their major volume. Yet, to date, there are only scarce examples of electrolytic food-based materials able to provide low-voltage operation of transistors at ambient conditions. In this context, a cost-effective and edible substance, honey, was proposed to be used as an electrolytic gate viscous dielectric in electrolyte-gated organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). Both
n- and p-type honey-gated OFETs (HGOFETs) were demonstrated, with distinctive features such as low voltage (<1 V) operation, long-term shelf life and operation stability in air, and compatibility with large-area fabrication processes, such as inkjet printing on edible tattoo-paper. Such complementary devices enable robust honey-based integrated logic circuits, exemplified by inverting logic gates and ring oscillators. A marked device responsivity to humidity provides promising opportunities for sensing applications, specifically, for moisture control of dried or dehydrated food.

- An Electrically Conductive Oleogel Paste for Edible Electronics
Edible electrical conductors fabricated with green methods and at a large scale and composed of food derivatives, ingestible in large amounts without risk for human health are needed. Here, conductive pastes made with materials with a high tolerable upper intake limit (≥mg kg−1 body weight per day) were proposed. Conductive oleogel composites, made with biodegradable and food-grade materials like natural waxes, oils, and activated carbon conductive fillers, were presented. The proposed pastes are compatible with manufacturing processes such as direct ink writing and thus are suitable for an industrial scale-up. These conductors are built without using solvents and with tunable electromechanical features and adhesion depending on the composition. They have antibacterial and hydrophobic properties so that they can be used in contact with food preventing contamination and preserving its organoleptic properties. As a proof-of-principle application, the edible conductive pastes were demonstrated to be effective edible contacts for food impedance analysis, to be integrated, for example, in smart fruit labels for ripening monitoring.
This work led also to a patent application (confidential).
1) The first Honey-Gated Complementary Organic Transistors and Circuits were demonstrated
2) An Electrically Conductive Oleogel Paste for Edible Electronics was demonstrated for the first time

Work is in progress on communication strategies and powering devices (eg edible batteries), as well as highly performing edible semiconductors and edible sensors. By the end of the project, two edible electronic systems demonstrators will be achieved: an edible smart pill (ELFO-Pill) and an edible food tag (ELFO-tag).