Transparent conductors are an important component in many of today’s technologies. These conductors are used extensively in LCD TV displays, cell phones, e-readers, touch screens, computer monitors and many other commercial devices. Additionally, they are used in the manufacture of solar cells and advanced lighting technologies.
The market for these different technologies is billions of dollars each year and growing. The most common material used for transparent conductors is indium tin oxide (ITO), but the search for an alternative is underway, since ITO is brittle, expensive and requires complicated manufacturing processes using high-vacuum environments. ITO’s main element, indium, is in high demand. Over the last decade, indium has soared in price, and there is growing concern that the price will continue to increase as indium becomes scarcer.
With the support of the National Science Foundation, Seashell Technology has developed flexible, silver nanowire-based transparent conductor (TC) films, Hi-Flex eFilms™, that are made by forming a random network of silver nanowires across the surface of a plastic film. Seashell developed the new conductors with many of the properties of ITO without ITO’s drawbacks. Silver nanowire-based transparent conductors could alleviate the demand for indium and enable the continued growth of TC-dependent technologies.
Seashell produces the conductive silver nanowire meshes by depositing them from solution using standard roll-to-roll techniques at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing ITO films. The ease of manufacturing, the abundant supply of silver and the high performance of silver nanowire-based transparent conductors may drive the transition from indium tin oxide over the next few years.
Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.