Novel conductors for flexible, robust electronic devices

Karen Gleason

The standard transparent conducting electrode material for displays and other electronics, indium tin oxide (ITO), is brittle and cracks easily upon impact or bending. Widely used as the top layer in devices where transparency to visible light is important, ITO is also incorporated in many emerging organic electronic devices, such as light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and plastic solar cells. Adding flexibility to ITO would enable bending capabilities for conventional and next-generation displays, photovoltaics, and solid-state lighting panels and extend the applications of touch screens by improving robustness.

Currently, ITO-based conducting electrodes are a $1 billion market, and demand for ITO has been outstripping supplies. The introduction of a transparent conducting material using smaller amounts of ITO would not only increase flexibility and robustness, but also reduce cost and improve availability of a vital component for the electronics industry.

This project is developing a composite material consisting of ITO and a conductive polymer. A recently invented polymer processing technique opens the possibility of co-depositing ITO and electronic polymers — a single-step process that would result in a thin, homogeneous ITO/polymer composite film combining the high conductivity of ITO and the flexibility of the polymer.