Mind & Matter


Power-Harnessing Plastic

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Electricity-conducting plastics. Image by Loo Research Group, Princeton University.


Last week I touched upon imminent global mineral shortages. One substance in particularly high demand is indium tin oxide (ITO), a material commonly used to manufacture transparent metal conductors (thus allowing for light transfer) in solar panels as well as flat-screen televisions, cell phones, and other display-intensive electronic devices.

A team of researchers at Princeton University has recently developed a low-cost alternative to increasingly expensive ITO using electricity-conducting plastics. According to associate professor Yueh-Lin Loo, “Conductive polymers have been around for a long time, but processing them to make something useful degraded their ability to conduct electricity.” The secret, Loo discovered, is to avoid rigid molds, and to maintain a relaxed state in the polymer structure.

The ITO-replacement might not only facilitate the development of less expensive solar cells, but also the deployment of flexible biomedical displays in developing countries.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:04 AM Monday, May 10, 2010

    cool. now in addition to blantant strip mining to get our display screens we can now foul the sea and air with noxious oil residue while getting material for the plastic.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.