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Friday, February 25, 2011

Plastic that Conducts Electricity


A team of Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales have discovered a technique that can make almost any plastic film electrically-conductive, and even give some plastics superconducting properties.

Plastics are well known for being lousy conductors, and are used to insulate electric cables, but by placing a thin film of metal onto a sheet of plastic and mixing the metal into the polymer with an ion beam, the researchers can make cheap, strong and flexible plastics, with impressive conducting powers.

Electricity-conducting plastic isn't necessarily a oxymoron -- conductive polymers do exist. They're just riddled with disadvantages, or only fit for very narrow purposes. You can make plastic conductive by punching and bending a complex metal sheet into the plastic itself, but the process is cumbersome and makes the plastic heavier and inflexible.

A piece of the conductive plastic
There are also specific polymer materials, like polyaniline, polythiophene and polypyrrole, which can conduct electricity, but it can be difficult or impossible to change their shape, they're often unstable conductors, they have low conductivity rates and are intolerant to oxygen exposure and difficult to process.

Shocking as it may seem, truly conducting plastics have existed for a long while. Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are in 

many devices. These OLEDs are based primarily on conducting polymers, true plastics capable of conducting electricity. 

All-polymer electronics (without the need for precious metal resources) are on the near horizon – so near that you might 

find them in your body before you find them in your home.

on beam techniques are used in the microelectronics industry to tailor the conductivity of semiconductors such as silicon, but attempts to adapt this process to plastic films have been made since the 1980s with only limited success until now.

“The team used an ion beam to tune the properties of a plastic film so that it conducts electricity, and acts as a superconductor and pass electric current without resistance if cooled to low enough temperature,” says Meredith.

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