Fantastic future predicted for plastic electronics

Professor Aimin Song, University of Manchester

Aimin Song, a professor of electronics engineering at the University of Manchester, is a man with a vision. Song, who is one of the eight recipients of the 2007 Brian Mercer Feasibility Award from the Royal Society, is looking to push the speed of plastic electronic components way beyond what has been achieved so far.

Plastic electronics came to prominence in 2000 when Zhores Alferov, Herbert Kroemer and Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contribution to the discovery and development of conductive polymer plastics.

While there has been some progress in the development of plastic electronic components, currently available organic field-effect transistors are slow, and involve a costly and multi-step fabrication processes. Even with the best available polymers, conventional plastic transistors will likely only achieve speeds of a few tens of megahertz.

Song has now pioneered a way to make plastic transistors and diodes using a simple and fast printing technique. “Our planar devices are extremely simple, single layer and planar structures,” says Song. “The diode comprises insulating trenches etched into a semiconductor to form a planar 2D device. Very high-speed (with 20 MHz already demonstrated) devices are smaller, and have lower parasitic capacitance enabling very high speeds. It is a very promising technology capable of achieving the EPC Global UHF standard of 880–920 MHz.”

Song’s devices are manufactured using a single-step method that is compatible with roll-to-roll, high throughput printing. And, unlike with multi-step fabrication, there are no critical alignment issues, or requirements for secondary or tertiary fabrication steps such as laser ablation.

Plastic ePrint (PEP) is a spin-off company with the task of commercialising the planar nanoelectronics platform developed by Song. “PEP will offer intellectual property licenses as well as research, development and supply chain support to partners and customers,” says Song. “Initial investment has been raised to develop manufacturing capability and commercial prototype demonstrators of the proprietary technology such as RF smart tags and display drivers.”

Photo: Aimin Song holding one of his plastic electronic components in a clean room (© Alex Waddington, University of Manchester).

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.