New Semiconductor Ink Holds Promise
Newly developed semiconductor ink could hold the answer for companies searching to make bendable computer screens or inexpensive sensor tags to help retailers keep track of their inventory.
The technology stems from new material – soluble semiconductor ink capable of carrying a negative electrical charge, said Philippe Inagaki, chief executive officer of Polyera Corp, a specialty chemicals company in Skokie, Illinois, that makes materials for flexible and printed electronics.
There are two fundamental types of semiconductors in the traditional silicon world: P-type, which carries a positive charge, and N-type, which carries a negative charge.
In the past, teams have only been able to develop positively charged semiconductor inks. However, the new ink, developed by researchers at Polyera and BASF SE unit BASF Future Business GmbH, is an N-type.
"When you have both you make chips and circuits that are faster and more reliable and more energy-efficient. And that’s a pretty big deal," Inagaki told Reuters.
He said the new semiconductor ink could be printed onto flexible materials, like a thin film of plastic or even paper, using a modified ink-jet printer.
"What you really want to do is print it like a newspaper," Inagaki said. "That is really fast and really cheap."
He believes retailers could then print cheap radio-frequency identification or RFID tags on most consumer goods, to better track their inventory.
"This is going to enable the right kinds of printed RFIDs with sufficient performance to be really useful. It will also enable more complicated and useful kinds of flexible displays — displays you can actually bend. And it will enable new kinds of sensor technology," he said.
In designing the new material, Antonio Facchetti, chief technology officer of the company, said he used techniques similar to those used by drug companies to discover new drug compounds. "You are looking for a new molecule," he said.
He actually developed a molecule that lacks electrons in its core, making it a good transporter of a negative charge; it can be dissolved in a solvent, making it possible to use it as ink.
The company plans to sell it under the brand ActivInk.
"We’re at the very early stage of this industry. The first products are just starting to appear," Inagaki said.
"The potential is to create something as big as the current silicon technology."
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