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Is Embedded Sustainability changing the face of electronic engineering?


31st January - Valencia.

If the latest version of the CES show in Las Vegas is anything to go by then the answer is a resounding YES

Recent events has shaken up global energy markets, driving oil and gas prices to their highest levels in nearly a decade. This current crisis reminds us that our dependence on fossil fuels is unsustainable and calls for a quick and widespread transition to a cleaner, more resilient, and secure energy infrastructure. No wonder then that the central theme of this year's CES 2023, which traditionally has been an Electronics show, was ‘Sustainability’ and the question of "How can technology help people cope with global challenges and create a more sustainable and accessible world?"

In 2020 the world was producing a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste per year, the equivalent of over a million Boeing 737s. Comprising everything from video cameras and televisions to vacuum cleaners and dishwashers, this contained $57 billion of raw materials, more than the GDP of many countries – of which only 17.4 percent was recycled.

Consumer electronic products are resource-intensive and plastics, chemicals, rare-earth elements, are tricky to separate from each other and therefore hard to recycle. A circuit board, for instance, is a tightly-packed maze of overlapping parts and materials.

But there’s a good reason why the problem needs to be addressed. Finite resources will dwindle and become more expensive, and shifting global political stances may hinder supply chains in the future. For consumer tech brands, having a long-term business will be about embedding sustainability across manufacturing and product life-cycles.


The need for a change in Design Mindset

According to McKinsey two factors are pushing design up the sustainability agenda. The first is technological: an ongoing shift of lifetime emissions from product operation to product production. The shift is partly thanks to user demand for extra features and capabilities that require additional materials to deliver. But it’s also because technical changes designed to promote efficient operations tend to involve additional product complexity. 

The second reason is the recognition that the design phase is typically the most powerful and cost-effective point to address the resource footprint of future products and services. Companies have long known that design decisions determine most of a product’s manufacturing, operating, and maintenance costs.

Among the many exhibitors and presentations at CES, Sustainability featured very heavily in new innovations for a cleaner, more renewable future. Their aim was to bring new materials, ideas and technologies to make a real impact on reducing the carbon footprint.


New developments in Power Semiconductors

Reducing overall power consumption can contribute significantly to sustainability and the opportunity to save money adds incentives in the manufacturing process of semiconductors. At CES Navitas Semiconductor showcased the benefits of using gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) technology in power semiconductors.  enabling the solutions for fully electrified housing, transportation, and industry providing increased portability, longer range, faster charging, and grid-independence and can save over 6 Gtons/yr of CO2 by 2050.


Software defined trend

MicroEJ, a leading provider of software for IoT and embedded devices however declared that a ‘software-defined’ electronics empowers a more sustainable, secure, and productive future, turning fixed-function products into a network of programmable devices with distributed intelligence. They maintain that sustainable designs will reduce IoT devices’ carbon emissions by dramatically reducing hardware requirements and resource usage.


The sustainable automotive cockpit

A key focus for sustainability was in automotive and E-mobility. Forvia, one of the world’s leading automotive technology suppliers, presented its new MATERI’ACT brand focused on developing and producing sustainable materials at scale. These materials will provide up to 85 percent CO2 reduction by 2030 and combined within interior technologies such lens displays and active surface integration, delivering a 30 percent kWh reduction to boost electrical vehicles range extension. In addition, it offers a cabin centrepiece which achieves 45% CO2 emission reductions through lightweight architectures, sustainable materials, and energy optimized electronics.


Re-inventing electric motors and power management

Traditional electric motors consume more than half of the world’s electricity. With sustainability in mind Infinitum have patented motor design that replaces the large, heavy iron core found in traditional motors with a lightweight printed circuit board (PCB) stator. Infinitum motors are 50 percent smaller and lighter, use 66 percent less copper and no iron, consume 10 percent less energy and are 9 times more durable than traditional motors.

In another example Dracula Technologies showed their development of an organic photovoltaic (OPV) solution to generate energy from indoor light, eliminating the need for batteries. The company’s fast method for depositing thin films enables not only rapid prototyping, but also quick scaling in production capacity anywhere in the world.


Other innovations with embedded sustainability at the heart

Other key themes included Smart Health and Renewable Sources.  Baracoda Labs, for instance, focused on health tech and have introduced the BHeart health tracker. It uses energy harvesting to do away with the need to recharge the batteries in the device. BHeart is created with sustainability in mind—not only its energy-autonomous design, but also the selection of plastic-free materials used in its manufacturing.

This is just a small collection of what was a massive exhibition of concepts, products, and services which are being developed under the sustainability banner. And while embedded sustainability is ushering in a new era of electronic engineering for Manufacturing, Design, Materials and Innovation, some things are not changing, and that is the challenge of finding the right people with the necessary skills to handle the developments. To lead the next generation of embedded electronics for a ‘greener’ outcome is going to need embedded engineers of the highest quality and these are an increasingly scarce commodity. In order seek the necessary global talent requires experts in the field such as CIS, with over 20 years’ experience in placing the right people to make an impact.  Make sure your next project has engineers with a full grasp of the embedded technology whether it be ‘sustainable’, working onsite, remotely or in hybrid environments, call CIS on +34 963 943 500 or email info@cis-ee.com.