I stumbled over an article the other day, grasping the opportunity that’s emerging in relation to making electronics based on cellulose sources. The world around us is in an exponential pace making innovations in electronics. So I asked myself the question after reading the article I in this blog post will refer to: can we make smarter electronics with paper-based versions?
Paper-based electronics: enabled by cellulose fibrils?
The reason why nanocellulose and cellulose fibrils have been investigated in areas like composites or electronics is its ability to provide functionality at low weight and ability to be non-conductive acting for instance as a separator. The researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has conducted lab scale trials on making conductive nano-paper containing silver nano-wires, which still conducted electricity after being folded 500 times (the cellulose fibrils gives the strength). The obvious upside of utilizing cellulose based products is of course it biodegradability. Compared to plastics and other oil-based products, and the article describes that the nanopaper will fully degrade after a month. This means that if the product would end up outside the circular economy, the components made out of nanopaper will be biodegradable. If you would take things one step further, if you have a product made out of biobased building blocks, your product will be biodegradable.
How does paper-based electronics fit into the world of technology?
How does these innovations on nano-paper relate to the world of technology then? Deji Akinwande at the UT-Austin site, have conducted testing in graphene based 2D materials as well as paper-electronics. They believe that the paper-based electronics will see a more widespread use, and coated the films with a polymer to remove the water sensitivity of the papers. Since we are surrounding ourselves with an increased amount of smart devices, connected to the internet, the opportunities for creating sustainable, lightweight and smart devices is increasing. Another interesting aspect to remember, is that everyone was talking about the strength of graphene as THE functionality at first, but that the other functionalities like conductivity has become increasingly popular. I believe that the cellulose fibrils will see exactly the same development, and that our smart jackets with sensors made of nanocellulose and cellulose fibrils will come. Devices measuring humidity, temperature etc., that can adjust heated elements in your jackets can make it much more comfortable staying outside at -20 °C (which is already commercially available from producers like Ravean).
At the end I would like to point to research conducted by a team at the Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Sweden, where tests on cellulose fibrils as conductive paper were made. Some interesting conclusions from this work was that the paper was flexible, and could function in solar cell applications. The team demonstrated solar cells with a power conversion efficiency of 0,4%.
It will for sure be very interesting to see if the nanocellulose and the cellulose fibrils can be utilized in these applications and also challenge graphene as the new star of the powerful functional material.