Engineers at ANU have invented a semiconductor with organic and inorganic materials that converts electricity into light, is thin and flexible enough to make mobiles bendable, and opens the door to a new generation of devices that will be biodegradable or easily recycled.
The invention is a “major breakthrough” in the field according to lead senior researcher Associate Professor Larry Lu of the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Engineering.
"For the first time, we have developed an ultra-thin electronics component with excellent semiconducting properties that is an organic-inorganic hybrid structure and thin and flexible enough for future technologies, such as bendable mobile phones and display screens," A/Prof Lu said.
The organic component has the thickness of just one atom - made from carbon and hydrogen - and forms part of the semiconductor the ANU team developed. The inorganic component has the thickness of about two atoms, they revealed. The hybrid structure can convert electricity into light very efficiently for high-resolution display screens on televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices.
PhD researcher Ankur Sharma said experiments demonstrated the performance of the semiconductor would be much more efficient than conventional semiconductors made with inorganic materials like as silicon.
"We have the potential with this semiconductor to make mobile phones as powerful as computers.”
The team grew the organic semiconductor component molecule by molecule, in a similar way to 3D printing, in a process called chemical vapour deposition.
"We characterised the opto-electronic and electrical properties of our invention to confirm the tremendous potential of it to be used as a future semiconductor component," A/Prof Lu said.
The invention also opens the door to a new generation of high-performance electronic devices made with organic materials. These will be biodegradable or easily recycled, which will substantially reduce e-waste.
World-wide, the huge volume of e-waste that is generated by discarded electronic devices is causing irreversible damage to the environment, ANU stated. And while Australia produces 200,000 tonnes of e-waste every year, only 4% of the waste is recycled.
A/Prof Lu revealed the team is working on growing the semiconductor component on a large scale so it can be commercialised in collaboration with prospective industry partners. The ANU engineering team’s work is published in Advanced Materials. You can also watch a video presentation about the semiconductor.