Breakthrough ink discovery could transform printed electronics

Black Phosphorous Crystals.
Black phosphorous crystals.

Scientists from the United Kingdom and Chinese universities have developed a new ink that could improve the performance of devices in the exciting and emerging field of printed electronics. Researchers from the Hybrid Nanomaterials Engineering Group at Cambridge University’s Graphene Center successfully incorporated black phosphorus, a two-dimensional material similar to graphene, into ink that’s compatible with conventional inkjet printers. The team collaborated with scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beihang and Zhejiang Universities. Graphene and black phosphorus are part of a growing family of “revolutionary” two-dimensional materials that are currently subject to intense scientific research due to their unique properties. Black phosphorus is not as conductive as graphene. However, it is sensitive to a greater region of the electromagnetic spectrum – including infrared, making it ideal for the development of optoelectronic devices. Such devices that detect, source or control light include solar cells, light emitters, optical fibres and sensors. The material may also have applications in technologies such as flexible and wearable electronics.

Hu Guohua.
Hu Guohua.

Hu Guohua, a PhD student at Cambridge University and lead author on the study – which has been published in the science journal Nature – said the team printed the new ink onto a range of materials. “Printing on silicon means it can be used to make transistors or photo-detectors,” he told China Daily. “If we print on plastic, it can be used to make flexible devices, and on glass for transparent devices. We think we can integrate printed black phosphorus onto existing silicon-based technologies like circuits, sensors, and interactive devices like wearable electronics,” Guohua added. The team at Cambridge used a solution processing technique in order to break the bulk crystals into ultra-thin nanomaterials only a few atomic layers across. In 2015, the same researchers developed a high-speed method for printed electronics using graphene, which was also led by Guohua. Interest on behalf of the Chinese in British research into the commercial application of two-dimensional materials was highlighted by President Xi Jinping’s visit to the National Graphene Institute in Manchester during his 2015 state visit to the UK. The beneficial properties of black phosphorus have been known for some time, but until now, there was no reliable way to convert the bulk crystals into a stable and printable ink.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.