Water-Based, Inkjet-Printable 2D Material Inks Leverage the Production of Flexible Electronics

Scientists from the University of Manchester developed a method using water-based, inkjet-printable 2D material inks to produce flexible electronics for smart packaging applications, wearable devices or medical implants.

Many materials traditionally used in the electronics industry might be the right choice when it comes to computers and phones. Due to their inflexibility and lack of transparency they are not suitable for flexible electronics used in smart packaging applications, wearable devices or medical implants. Recent research from the University of Manchester shows that water-based, inkjet-printable 2D material inks might open up the use of flexible electronics, especially for the healthcare sector.

2D Material Inks and Heterostructures Make a Perfect Match

2D materials have great potential for the use in flexible electronics because their atomic thickness enables maximum electrostatic control, optical transparency, sensitivity and mechanical flexibility. The best thing about them: Scientists can layer these materials in a precisely chosen sequence to create heterostructure-based devices tailored to a specific purpose.

In cooperation with the University of Pisa, the researchers from Manchester quickly determined inkjet printing as the ideal process for producing heterostructures. It allows for low-cost and large-scale fabrication on any substrate. But it requires stable inks with suitable properties. This is where graphene comes into play. It is the best-known 2D material providing excellent properties: It is 200 times stronger than steel, lightweight, flexible and more conductive of copper.

Thanks to their findings, the team led by Cinzia Casiraghi was able to produce the first working, completely inkjet-printed heterostructures, namely a photodetector comprising tungsten disulfide put between two layers of graphene and a read-only memory.

The Medical Applicability of 2D Material Inks

When asked about the possible applications of this method Casiraghi says:

“Due to the simplicity, flexibility and low cost of device fabrication and integration, we envisage this technology to find potential in smart packaging applications and labels, for example for food, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods, where thinner, lighter and cheaper and easy to integrate components are needed.”

After all, other ink formulations often tend to mix when printed in layers what makes them simply unsuitable for heterostructures. What is even worse is that they often contain toxic solvents what limits their use to only few purposes. For instance, it would be forbidden to implant them into the human body. But experts estimate that the use of flexible electronics in the healthcare segment electronics is going to increase over the  upcoming years. This is why the water-based graphene formulation leverages heterostructures to biomedical applications.

What do you think: Does the new production process have potential to penetrate the desired markets? Please leave us a comment in the section next to this article.