What Are Organic Electronics?

Maggie J. Hall

Organic electronics have carbon-based molecules or carbon-based polymers formed into a pliable substance that can conduct a current. Though first discovered by a chemist in 1862, researchers did not delve into the components and processes required for creating polymer electronics until the 20th century. Manufacturers claim that organic electronics are inexpensive to produce and provide greater versatility than standard electronic components.

Plastic electronics on thin film are typically thinner and weigh less than a conventional circuit board.
Plastic electronics on thin film are typically thinner and weigh less than a conventional circuit board.

Polymers and plastics are more commonly associated with insulating or resisting electrical current rather than conducting an electrical charge. Beginning in the 1950s, researchers devised ways of manipulating organic, or carbon containing, molecular structures, creating a series of single and double chemical bonds. Technicians then add or subtract electrons by doping the substance with bromine, chlorine, or iodine to increase conductivity. Some conductive polymers begin as acetylenes, anilines, or thiophenes and then undergo electrochemical or chemical polymerization processes. These substances become polyacetylene, polyaniline, and polythiophene.

The carbon-based polymers are typically liquid or semi-liquid in nature and can be applied using methods similar to ink jet or screen printing. Organic electronics created from nanoparticles, or small molecules, and generally require a more complex vacuumed process of application. Technicians add the organic electronics polymers to smooth substrate surfaces, such as paper, thin plastic films, and cardboard, by printing, coating, and laminating surfaces. When given a current, organic electronics perform as conductors, semi-conductors, and light emitters.

Plastic electronics on thin film are typically thinner and weigh less than a conventional circuit board. The substance and substrate have a physical flexibility that traditional electronic components lack. Manufacturers report the process of creating organic electronics at room temperature requires less energy, making the overall finished product more cost effective. Many believe that organic electronics are eco-friendly alternatives to conventional electronic components, as the planet contains a virtually limitless supply of organic material that can be used as building blocks. Being organic in nature, researchers report that component disposal creates less of an adverse environmental impact.

Practical applications for organic electronics include organic light emitting diodes, or OLEDs, which convert electricity into light. Some companies use this technology for creating the displays in cell phones, laptops, and other electronic appliances. Some popular electronics companies create televisions that have organic electroluminescent screens. The organic substances also possess the capability of absorbing light and converting it into electrical current. These inexpensive and flexible organic photovoltaic cells, or OPVs, are suitable for use as solar batteries or solar panels.

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