- Professor Seeks Patent on Possible ITO Replacement
CINCINNATI, Nov. 14, 2011 — A highly transparent and electrically conductive polymer-based film that could replace the expensive and rare indium tin oxide (ITO) may soon earn a US patent. The innovative film has potential uses in energy, including applications in solar and fuel technology.
While ITO may be unfamiliar to most consumers, it is the very material behind most touch-screen devices like smartphones and video kiosks and appears in flat panel displays, electronic inks and in organic LEDs.
Finding a replacement for ITO is significant for several reasons — it’s not only rare in the US, making it very expensive, but it is also fragile, lacks flexibility and requires complicated processes to apply.
Jude Iroh's research has led to a provisional patent application for an innovative film with remarkable properties. (Image: University of Cincinnati)
“Because of its properties, this [new] film is very flexible,” said Jude Iroh, who filed a provisional patent for the film. He is a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Cincinnati. “I can envision a very thin solar panel that can be unrolled and applied, perhaps to an automobile, while the sun is shining, then peeled off and stored.”
Development of the film grew out of Iroh’s work on coatings.
“My initial focus was in composites, particularly laminated composites,” he said.
For more than two decades, Iroh has tackled substantial problems related to coating materials. For example, adding trace amounts of various substances can improve corrosion prevention, but these “dopants” can be lost due to weather, defeating the purpose of the coating. Other coatings are very effective but must be cured at high temperatures. Iroh said that he found methods to reduce curing temperatures by more than 100 degrees Celsius.
Iroh said that effective coatings must meet a wide range of requirements — cost is a factor, as is ease of application, environmental safety, and the ability to adhere and to impact resistance.
The impact resistance of nanocomposite coatings has opened a fruitful partnership between Iroh’s laboratory and Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi. Funded by the Office of Naval Research, Jackson State students are working with Iroh’s lab on low-temperature systems for high-impact epoxy coatings.
As Iroh gained more insight into the function of various substances as coatings, it occurred to him that these coatings had useful properties, even if they were not coating something.
“A coating is essentially a film. What properties does this film possess?” Iroh asked.
It was the question that led to the development of the highly transparent, electrically conductive, polymer-based nanocomposite film.
“This breakthrough will give us a unique place in the broader field of composites and energy research,” he said. “This is an exciting development, and I am glad that my research group is very well positioned to continue to make a significant impact in this area.”
For more information, visit: www.uc.edu
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