Nov.28, 2011

Downloading and printing new electronics has now become possible. Without a gram of metal - thanks to a breakthrough at the Cambridge university in UK.

3D printing is becoming increasingly popular. No wonder. A 3D printer can print an object layer by layer. It is ideal for making prototypes. Many industrial designers are using 3D printing technology, but you can also make other alterations, for example 3D printing with chocolate. Electronics can also be printed with special electrically conductive ink. One of them is conductive polymers, a type of plastic.

There's only one problem. Printed electronics is far not as good as silicon-based electronics, because the material is less conductive. That is, until now, Andrea Ferrari and his colleagues at Cambridge have for the first time succeeded in graphene to replace conducting polymers. Graphene, which is a sort of chicken wire made of carbon atoms in graphite, conducts as good as metals. In short, it is an ideal material for printable electronics. Unfortunately it is very difficult to make a form by a printer head because of the graphene flakes. Graphene is an irregular mixture of small and large flakes. Large flakes clog the printer head and even bigger problem can occur - it prevents the small, regular droplets to be formed. Small droplets are fundamental for inkjet printing.

Recently, Andrea Ferrari and peers at the University of Cambridge in the UK have managed to solve this problem and demonstrated a giant leap forward. By using a modified Epson Stylus 1500 Ink-jet printer and some customised cartridges, they have printed out onto a Silicon based substrate.

They peel graphene layers off with ultrasound (in jargon: sonication) from a graphite block and filter them so that the largest pieces are no longer clogging the printer head. Then they solve the flakes in the solvent N-methylpyrrolidone, or NMP, which counteracts the infamous coffee ring effect(In physics, a coffee ring is a pattern left by a puddle of particle-laden liquid after it evaporates). The ink is accumulated on the edge by this coffee ring effect. Another nice feature is that NMP is not very toxic. The last step was to place the NMP with dissolved grafeenvlokken in a printhead. The researchers printed a number of circuits and thin film transistors.

The breakthrough shows the graphene ink scoring slightly better than existing ink. Note: this is not a mature product, so expect that it will be even better.

"This paves the way to all-printed, flexible and transparent graphene devices on arbitrary substrates.," say Ferrari and co in concluding their paper.

If this technology is combined with 3D printing technology, soon you will be in a printing service shop asking for printing a 3D objects with internal electronics. 

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Posted in Printing Technology

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nano_leader wrote at 2/6/2012 5:48:58 PM:

Hi, this is an amazing technology. I would be quite interested how they peel off the graphene layers from the block by sonication. I have just found articles about the outstanding mixing and particle size reduction achievec by ultrasound ( I am looking forward to read more! Cheers

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