Quantum engineers have created ICs entirely made of carbon-based materials. The all-carbon electronics are more flexible and heat-resistant than silicon ICs, making them suitable for integration into plastics.
A lot of research has gone into flexible electronics recently. Electronics freed from their rigid silicon wavers opens up a whole new range of applications such as integration into bendable and stretchable plastics.
A material often used for flexible electronics are carbon nanotubes. When these are assembled in a network structure they conduct electricity and are both bendable and stretchable. However, to make a fully functional electronic device other more rigid materials were needed such as metal electrodes and oxide insulators, limiting flexibility.
Now a team of of quantum engineers from the Japanese Nagoya University and nanomaterials scientists from the Finnish Aalto University have created all-carbon integrated circuits and thin-film transistors from carbon nanotubes and polymer plastics. The devices are transparant, flexible and exhibit a stretchability of 18%.
Another important property of the Finnish/Japanese innovation is heat resistance. Many plastic products are fabricated using molding techniques, a process involving high temperatures. Conventional semiconductor materials and electrodes have poor heat resistance but the all-carbon ICs can be integrated into plastics during the molding process.
This makes integration of electronics into plastics a lot cheaper and it opens up new possibilties. For instance, molded cell phone casings which now only serve as a protective cover, could be outfitted with electronic functionalities of their own.
The scientists had their paper Mouldable All-carbon Integrated Circuits published in the August edition of Nature Communications.
Image: All-carbon device