Breakthrough claimed in organic electronics

2 min read

Researchers from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, have discovered a simple technique that could double the efficiency of organic electronics.

OLED-displays and bioelectronics are just some of the technologies that could benefit from their new discovery, which deals with "double-doped" polymers.

Semiconductors require a process called doping, which involves weaving impurities into them to enhance their electrical conductivity. For organic – that is, carbon-based – semiconductors, this doping process is similarly of extreme importance.

OLED-displays are an example of organic semiconductors which are already on the market, for example in the latest generation of smartphones. However, other applications have not yet been fully realised, due in part to the fact that organic semiconductors are not efficient enough.

Doping in organic semiconductors operates through what is known as a redox reaction. This means that a dopant molecule receives an electron from the semiconductor, increasing the electrical conductivity of the semiconductor. The more dopant molecules that the semiconductor can react with, the higher the conductivity – at least up to a certain limit. Currently, the efficiency limit of doped organic semiconductors has been determined by the fact that the dopant molecules have only been able to exchange one electron each.

Writing in Nature Materials, Professor Christian Müller and his group from Chalmers, together with colleagues from seven other universities have been able to demonstrate that it is possible to move two electrons to every dopant molecule.

"Through this 'double doping' process, the semiconductor can therefore become twice as effective," said David Kiefer, a PhD student in the group.

According to Christian Müller, this innovation is not built on some great technical achievement, rather it is simply a case of seeing what others have not seen.

"Research has been focused on studying materials, which only allow one redox reaction per molecule. We chose to look at a different type of polymer, with lower ionisation energy. We saw that this material allowed the transfer of two electrons to the dopant molecule. It is actually very simple," explained Christian Müller, Professor of Polymer Science at Chalmers University of Technology.

The discovery could allow further improvements to technologies which today are not competitive enough to make it to market. One problem is that polymers simply do not conduct current well enough, and so making the doping techniques more effective has long been a focus for achieving better polymer-based electronics. Now, this doubling of the conductivity of polymers, while using only the same amount of dopant material, over the same surface area as before, could represent the tipping point needed to allow several emerging technologies to be commercialised.

“With OLED displays, the development has come far enough that they are already on the market. But for other technologies to succeed and make it to market something extra is needed. With organic solar cells, for example, or electronic circuits built of organic material, we need the ability to dope certain components to the same extent as silicon-based electronics. Our approach is a step in the right direction,” said Christian Müller.

The discovery could help thousands of researchers to achieve advances in flexible electronics, bioelectronics and thermoelectricity.

Christian Müller’s research group themselves are researching several different applied areas, with polymer technology at the centre. Among other things, his group is looking into the development of electrically conducting textiles and organic solar cells.