Stable electrodes for improving printed electronics

Apr 19, 2012
After introducing what appears to be a universal technique to reduce the work function of a conductor in printable electronics, a team led by Georgia Tech's Bernard Kippelen has developed the first completely plastic solar cell. Credit: Virginie Drujon-Kippelen

Imagine owning a television with the thickness and weight of a sheet of paper. It will be possible, someday, thanks to the growing industry of printed electronics. The process, which allows manufacturers to literally print or roll materials onto surfaces to produce an electronically functional device, is already used in organic solar cells and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that form the displays of cellphones.

Although this is expected to grow by tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, one challenge is in manufacturing at low cost in . In order to create light or energy by injecting or collecting electrons, printed electronics require conductors, usually calcium, magnesium or lithium, with a low-work function. These metals are chemically very reactive. They oxidize and stop working if exposed to oxygen and moisture. This is why electronics in solar cells and TVs, for example, must be covered with a rigid, thick barrier such as glass or expensive encapsulation layers.

However, in new findings published in the journal Science, Georgia Tech researchers have introduced what appears to be a universal technique to reduce the work function of a conductor. They spread a very of a polymer, approximately one to 10 thick, on the conductor's surface to create a strong surface dipole. The interaction turns air-stable conductors into efficient, low-work function electrodes.

The commercially available polymers can be easily processed from dilute solutions in solvents such as water and methoxyethanol.

"These polymers are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and compatible with existent roll-to-roll mass production techniques," said Bernard Kippelen, director of Georgia Tech's Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE). "Replacing the reactive metals with stable conductors, including , completely changes the requirements of how electronics are manufactured and protected. Their use can pave the way for lower cost and more flexible devices."

To illustrate the new method, Kippelen and his peers evaluated the polymers' performance in organic thin-film transistors and OLEDs. They've also built a prototype: the first-ever, completely plastic solar cell.

"The polymer modifier reduces the work function in a wide range of conductors, including silver, gold and aluminum," noted Seth Marder, associate director of COPE and professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "The process is also effective in transparent metal-oxides and graphene."

Explore further: Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

Apr 17, 2014

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...

Wiring up carbon-based electronics

Apr 17, 2014

Carbon-based nanostructures such as nanotubes, graphene sheets, and nanoribbons are unique building blocks showing versatile nanomechanical and nanoelectronic properties. These materials which are ordered ...

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

(Phys.org) —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...