A barrier technology can protect sensitive devices like organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and solar cells from moisture 1,000 times more effectively than any other technology available in the market, opening up new opportunities for the up-and-coming plastic electronics sector.
This new patented film has the highest reported water vapor barrier performance to date, according to a research team from the Agency of Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in Singapore.
The tests show the new film is 1,000 times more impervious to moisture than existing technologies. This means a longer lifetime for plastic electronic devices such as solar cells and flexible displays that use these high-end films, but whose sensitive organic materials become easily degraded by water vapor and oxygen.
The new technology is a boon to the burgeoning plastic electronics industry, which aims to deliver flexible, lightweight, and cheap electronics products to consumers in ways silicon electronics may never reach, such as disposable or wraparound displays, cheap identification tags, low cost solar cells, and chemical and pressure sensitive sensors.
A research institute of the A*STAR, IMRE’s breakthrough technology comes as Singapore seeks to jumpstart a plastic electronics industry locally as part of the country’s long-term plan to anchor new knowledge-intensive industries in the economy.
The global plastic electronics industry could grow to a market size of more than $23 billion in the next five years, officials said.
The performance of devices like OLEDs and solar cells is sensitive to moisture because water and oxygen molecules seep past the protective plastic layer over time and degrades the core organic materials.
Current commercially available films used to protect these materials have a barrier property or water vapor transmission rate of about 10-3g/m2 per day, or one thousandth of a gram per square meter per day at 25°C and 90% relative humidity (RH).
However, the ideal film for organic devices would require a barrier property of better than 10-6g/m2/day at 39°C and 90% RH, or one millionth of a gram per square meter per day.
Defects such as pinholes, cracks, and grain boundaries are common in thin oxide barrier films when fabricated onto plastic substrates. These defects cause a “pore effect,” where oxygen and water molecules are able to seep through and penetrate the plastic barrier.
Current barrier technologies focus on reducing these defects by using alternate organic and inorganic multi-layers coated on plastic. These multiple layers “stagger” corresponding pores in adjacent layers and create a “tortuous,” lengthy pathway for water and oxygen molecules, making it more difficult to travel through the plastic.
IMRE resolved the pore effect by plugging the defects in the barrier oxide films using nanoparticles. This reduces the number of barrier layers needed in the construction of the barrier film down to two layers in this unique nanoengineered barrier stack. IMRE’s barrier stack consists of barrier oxide layers and nanoparticulate sealing layers.
The nanoparticles used in the barrier film have a dual function—not only sealing the defects but also actively reacting with and retaining moisture and oxygen.
The result is a breakthrough moisture barrier performance of better than 10-6g/m2/day, or one millionth of a gram per square meter per day, which surpasses the requirements for flexible organic device substrates.
The barrier film also has a lag time of more than 2300 hours at 60°C and 90% RH (i.e. the time required for moisture to pass through the barrier film under those conditions).
“With a level of protection that surpasses the ideal requirements for such films to date, manufacturers now have the opportunity to extend the lifetime of plastic electronic devices by leaps and bounds,” said Senthil Ramadas, principal investigator of the project.
A stumbling block in developing ultra-high barrier substrates has been the availability of an appropriate testing methodology. Overcoming this hurdle, the IMRE project team has developed a highly sensitive moisture and oxygen permeation measurement system in tandem with the development of the film, which is able to effectively measure permeation of less than 10-8g/m2/day.
“Together with our expertise in encapsulation processes and permeation measurement technologies, we are also able to provide a total solution package for industries such as flexible solar cells and OLED displays producers,” Ramadas said.
“The research team is already in talks with solar cells and flexible displays and lighting industry manufacturers, who are currently evaluating the barrier films for product qualification,” said Dr. Mark Auch, a member of the IMRE team who is actively involved in the commercialization of the technology.
Source: 1 May 2008, InTech Home InTech Home, Plastic electronics get new level of protection, Staff @ Tech Home