It’s made from carbon and it’s one atom
thick. It has a diameter of about a nanometer – approximately
50,000 times as small as the width of a human hair, and the same
diameter as that of DNA. It’s about to make big waves in the
electronics industry and beyond. It’s a carbon nanotube. Yes,
carbon. And yes – it is an incredibly small wire.
Hence, carbon for electronics is a very big deal.
Replacing inorganic materials
Electronics as we know them are based on inorganic materials:
copper, silicon or the transparent electronic material called
indium-tin-oxide (ITO). Devices incorporating these materials are made
through high temperature processes in multi-billion dollar facilities.
In contrast, Unidym builds networks or films of nano-scale wires called
carbon nanotubes (CNTs) using a simple and inexpensive solution-based
process, much like printing a newspaper. Such films, which can be made
to mimic the properties of metals or silicon, lie at the heart of the
products being developed by the company. Some applications of this
technology can be used here and now, others will usher in what is being
referred to as a new paradigm of electronics, involving printed,
plastic or large-area macro-electronics.
Small wire, big potential
is pioneering technology that is using films of CNTs to produce
components for high-performance, cost-effective electronic products.
The company holds full patent coverage for CNTs, which boast electrical
conductivity comparable to that of metals, surpassing that of any
polymer by several orders of magnitude, and able to carry significantly
more current than the best metals. CNTs are also physically flexible,
do not react with most chemicals and resist abrasion or damage from
day-to-day use. Their excellent electrical, optical and mechanical
properties and the abundance of carbon make them a highly promising
material for many current and future applications.
Products made simpler,
Unidym’s product line builds upon the growing trend
in the electronics industry to replace today’s expensive
materials and manufacturing processes with simpler, lower-cost
production techniques similar to those found in the printing industry.
Films of CNTs, called nanonets, serve as an electronically conductive
medium for a variety of applications where optically transparent films
are essential. The films offer competitive alternatives to ITO in a
variety of applications. What’s more, while ITO requires
deposition methods that are largely based on high temperature processes
that are incompatible with a large variety of substrates,
Unidym’s films are made a room temperature and are fully
compatible with plastics and other materials.
Unidym’s highly transparent and electrically
conducting films offer significant benefits for a wide variety of
- Touch screens are in greater demand and require increasing
durability and optical clarity. Networks of carbon nanotubes have the
required transparency, electrical attributes and incredible flexibility
and robustness to ensure devices with long lifetimes
- Solar cells Inexpensive, large-area fabrication techniques
will make Unidym’s material architecture
particularly relevant to thin film and organic solar cells
- Flat panel displays require highly transparent conductors
with low electrical resistance
- Light emitting diodes and solid-state lighting such as
organic or polymer-based light sources require transparent electrodes
made from CNTs for energy efficiency
Products for the future
Films which are tailor-made to resemble silicon serve as the
backbone of novel printable or flexible electronics. The new paradigm
on which these products are based involves replacing expensive starting
materials and complex semiconductor manufacturing processes with
low-cost solution-based deposition techniques like ink jet printing and
roll-to-roll coating. Unidym is developing active electronic devices
utilizing the company’s platform technology. Electronic
magazines, displays that roll up and radio frequency identification
(RFID) tags top the list of potential applications of the technology.
In all, the market for transparent conductive films and
coatings exceeds $1 billion per year and is growing between 15% and 25%
annually. Independent experts forecast the opportunity to grow to $30
billion by 2015, and to as much as $250 million by 2025