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Printable Electronic Inks

Posted on January 13th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Silver nanoparticles

In this post, we looked at developments in the process of printing electronic devices. A team at MIT have developed a “nanotube stamp” which looks to be capable of accurately and uniformly delivering electronic ink onto a surface.

While the delivery mechanism is clearly important in making printable electronic devices commercially viable, so is the ink itself. Towards the end of last year, chemists at Duke University published the results of a study into the effectiveness of silver nanostructure films in conductive inks, which could have a significant impact.

Electronic Inks Today

For todays printed electronics to work, they need to be heated after the ink is applied. The nanoparticles in the ink are essentially melted together to form a single conductive wire.

That sintering process typically takes place at temperatures up to 400°C, which places restrictions on the types of materials that electronic ink can be printed on.

The team at Duke University look to have found a way remove the need for sintering, which would allow electronics to be printed onto heat-sensitive materials like plastic or paper.

The Shape Of Things To Come

In their study, researchers looked at the resistivity of printed films of silver nanowires, nanoparticles and microflakes after heating at a range of temperatures.

They found that electrons are able to move through films made up of silver nanowires much more easily than those made from other shapes of nanoparticles. While that is to be expected, since there are less “gaps” for the electrons to move across in the nanowire films, the magnitude of the improvement came as a surprise to the team.

The difference was so significant that the nanowire films were more conductive without sintering than the other shapes were after they had been sintered.

“The nanowires had a 4,000 times higher conductivity than the more commonly used silver nanoparticles that you would find in printed antennas for RFID tags… There is really nothing else I can think of besides these silver nanowires that you can just print and it’s simply conductive, without any post-processing,” said Benjamin Wiley, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke.

There’s a little more detail on the study and it’s results here.

This is an area of technology which looks sure to continue to draw attention as its impact could be far reaching. We could be seeing some big steps made in the next year or two, with the push into commercialization following soon afterwards.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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