Professor Aimin Song from the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, UK, has developed ways to improve the processing speed of plastic electronics. He has set up a company, Plastic ePrint Ltd with support form The University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd (UMIP), to commercialise the technology.
The firm is now seeking venture capital funding and is also working on demonstration versions of plastic radio frequency (RF) smart cards and developing plastic components for use in flexible displays.
The technology opens up the possibility for very flexible devices such as pocket-sized information screens that can be rolled up.
While plastic electronics obviously have potential, there remain hurdles in the way of applying the technology commercially. Conventional multi-layered transistors made from polymer plastics provide relatively slow conductivity speeds and are complex and costly to manufacture. Currently, multi-layered transistors made from plastic are operating at kilohertz speeds or slower.
Song has pioneered a way to make single-layered planar plastic transistors and diodes using a fast and simple printing technique, and says he is confident of pushing the speed of organic plastic semiconductors to around 100 megahertz – way beyond the 20 Mhz he has achieved thus far.
Plastic components such as semiconductors and diodes could be used to create drivers for flexible displays, radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs) and intelligent disposable sensors.
Song believes this could lead to the production of pocket-sized information displays and writeable electronic wallpaper. Other potential applications include intelligent tickets for public transport systems, or road charging schemes and electronic stamps for letters and packages. “The components we have developed are simpler and potentially much cheaper to manufacture and much faster than previous organic electronic devices,” he says.
“These advantages come from the simplicity of the single layer, planar structures, rather than the multi-layer vertical structures of conventional semiconductor devices.”
Richard Price from UMIP said, “Initial applications will have relatively modest functionality in comparison to today’s silicon technology, but as materials and processes continue to develop there should be no reason why high-performance products cannot be realised in the future.”