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Copper film could lower touch-screen, LED, and solar-cell costs

September 30, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
copper_nanowires.jpgSeptember 26, 2011 via - Duke University chemist Ben Wiley and his graduate student have developed a technique to organize copper atoms in water to form long, thin, non-clumped nanowires that are transformed into transparent conductive films and coated onto glass or plastic.

These new nanostructures could drive down the costs of displaying information on cell phones, e-readers and iPads, and also help engineers build foldable electronics and improved solar cells, according to new research.

Why current displays and solar cells are expensive

The film that currently generates pixels in electronic screens are made of indium tin oxide, or ITO. It is highly transparent, which transmits the information well.

But the ITO film must be deposited from a vapor in a process that is a thousand times slower than newspaper printing, and, once the ITO is in the device, it cracks easily. Indium is also an expensive rare earth element, costing as much as $800 per kilogram. Another solution, silver nanowires, will be on the market this year, but silver is even more expensive, at $1400 per kilogram.

These problems have driven worldwide efforts to find less expensive materials that can be coated or printed like ink at much faster speeds to make low-cost, transparent conducting films, Wiley said.

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