Polymer synthesis could aid future electronics

Tomorrow's television and computer screens could be brighter, clearer and more energy-efficient as a result of a process developed by a team of researchers from Canada and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

A high-resolution scanning tunneling microscope image (top) and density functional theory-calculated structures (bottom) reveal the formation of a well-organized PEDOT polymer.

The synthesis of a conjugated organic polymer--widely used as a conductive material in devices like light-emitting diodes, televisions and solar cells--could mean more efficient, cheaper electronics.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group of scientists from ORNL and two Canadian universities outlined their success in growing highly structured short chains of polymer poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), or PEDOT. Analysis and understanding of the polymerization process and results were provided with the help of ORNL supercomputers.

The theoretical expertise provided by ORNL scientists Bobby Sumpter and Vincent Meunier in synthesising the PEDOT polymer could potentially have an impact on everyday electronic products.

PEDOT is valued in electronic applications for the transparency, ductility and stability of its conducting, or doped, state. Because of its role as conductive material in organic light-emitting diodes, PEDOT is found in many electronic devices such as televisions and computer monitors.

The polymer is also used in many solar panel cells as a hole-filling material. "It's one of the most successfully used semiconducting polymers on the planet," Sumpter said.

Improving and controlling the molecular order of a nanostructured PEDOT material is critical to the polymer's performance in electronic applications. The highly ordered polymer arrays such as those constructed by the researchers could lead to increased efficiencies in a multitude of electronic devices.