Researchers developed an ultra-thin electronic material that could be printed and distributed like a newspaper for the flexible touchscreens of the future.
Touch-sensitive technology is 100 times thinner than existing touchscreen materials and achieves a screen so flexible that it can be rolled up like a tube.
To create the new conductive sheet, a team led by RMIT University used a common thin film in the touchscreens of cell phones and reduced it to almost 2D.
Nano-thin sheets are already compatible with existing electronic technologies and, thanks to their incredible flexibility, could potentially be produced through roll-to-roll (R2R) processing just like a newspaper.
Research on the new flexible touchscreens has been published today in the journal Nature Electronics.
The lead researcher, dr Torben Daeneke, said most mobile phone touchscreens are made of transparent, indium tin oxide material, which is very conductive but also very fragile.
"We took an old material and transformed it from the inside to create a new, extremely thin and flexible version"Said Daeneke. "You can bend it, you can twist it, and you could make it much cheaper and more efficient than the slow and expensive way we currently produce touchscreens."
Turning it practically into two dimensions also makes it more transparent, so it allows more light to pass through. Not to mention energy efficiency: such a touchscreen mobile phone would extend battery life by approximately 10%.
Flexible touch screens, we could even make them at home
The current process of manufacturing the clear material used in standard touchscreens is slow, energy-intensive and expensive. You need a vacuum chamber.
“Our approach doesn't require expensive or specialized equipment - it could even be done in a home kitchen,” he said Daeneke.
How they turned an old material into a new one
To create the much thinner new type of indium tin oxide (ITO), the researchers used a liquid metal printing approach.
An indium-tin alloy is heated to 200 ° C, becomes liquid and rolls on a surface to print nano-thin sheets. It's like making crepes.
In addition to being completely flexible, the new type of ITO absorbs only 0,7% of the light, compared to 5-10% of the standard conductive glass. To make it more electronically conductive, just layer multiple layers.
It is a pioneering approach that has opened up a challenge hitherto considered unsolvable. There was no way to make this material completely flexible, conductive and transparent: today there is.
New flexible touchscreens: when we will see them on the market
The research team used the new material to create a touchscreen that worked as a “proof of concept”, and applied for a patent for the technology.
"We are thrilled to be at the stage where we can explore business collaboration opportunities and work with interested industries to bring these flexible touchscreens to market.", said Daeneke.