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Organic electronics brings electronics everywhere

Professor Donald Lupo

In organic electronics, electronic circuits are printed on
flexible substrates such as the ones held by Professor
Donald Lupo. Printing can be carried out with a standard
printing machine.

"Organic printed electronics has the potential to transform what electronics look like and revolutionize the spread of electronic applications."

This is how Professor Donald Lupo at TUT's Department of Electronics describes his fascination with his field. Organic electronics means using carbon-based materials, such as dyes or plastics, as semiconductors instead of silicon or other materials. Printed electronics means that electronics are prepared using regular printing equipment instead of ultraclean high-tech fabrication facilities. When these two are brought together, it is possible to print, spray or coat organic electronics.

Although organic electronics cannot compete with the processing speed and density of conventional semiconductors, it has other advantages, such as allowing electronic circuits and devices to be produced over large areas at a low cost.

"A standard industrial printing machine can print 10,000 square meters per hour and costs around a million euros. Imagine that you could produce electronics with that, instead of a fabrication facility that can cost a billion euros or more," Lupo says. "If you don't need high performance, you can keep the costs way down by doing this."

Ideal for the developing world

Another advantage lies in the ability of organic electronics to facilitate applications that are not feasible with conventional electronics. With a sheet of solar cells, you could charge your computer in the garden or use your ceiling, wall or window to light up your room.

"The most exciting thing would be to create a change with cheap, light solar cells for the developing world. It would mean rural electrification for areas that haven't been able to afford it. Organic printed electronics could enable, for example, light for children so they could read their schoolbooks at night."

Organic electronics promotes sustainability; instead of building polluting power plants or controversial nuclear plants, energy could be generated renewably and locally.

Huge market potential ahead

Although the feasibility of the above examples has been demonstrated, none of them are yet mass-produced. However, organic electronics is already used today, for example, as OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays in high-end mobile phones and OLED designer lighting.

"The OLED market is already worth over a billion US dollars. It has been estimated that the organic electronics market will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars by 2030," adds Lupo.

Harvesting energy

Lupo and his team are now conducting research on radio frequency (RF) applications and energy harvesting for sensors.

"If you have sensors, for example, on food packages in shops to measure their freshness and spoilage or sensors in rooms measuring air quality, you cannot run an electrical wire or put a battery on each of them. Instead it is possible to use printed solar cells and RF rectifiers to harvest the required energy from ambient light or radio waves from an RFID reader, or maybe in the future from mobile phones and use it to power a sensor circuit," continues Lupo. This would make it possible to put electronics and especially sensors "everywhere".

 

Text: Marjaana Lehtinen
Photo: Petri Laitinen


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