Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Chemists at the University of Warwick have developed a better way to make patterned metals. The material innovation could make solar panels cheaper and more sustainable.
The processes used to pattern metals like silver and cooper for use in modern electronics and solar cells are expensive and toxic. Patterns must either be created by removing bits of metal with harmful chemicals or they must be printed using pricey metal inks.
Scientists at Warwick came up with a cheaper way to pattern metals that foregoes the use of toxic chemicals and doesn't produce metal waste by tweaking a technique called thermal evaporation.
In lab tests, researchers discovered that silver and copper do not condense onto extremely thin films of specific highly fluorinated organic compounds, or organofluorine compounds. By creating stenciled patterns using organofluorine compounds, which are already used to create thin metal films for nonstick pans, scientists were able to pattern silver and copper.
Researchers used thermal evaporation to deposit a thin metal layer of silver and copper onto a substrate. The thin organofluorine patterns prevented deposition, allowing only the metal to deposit in the negative space, creating a patterned metal.
The new method, described this week in the journal Materials Horizons, only requires a small amount of organofluorine. The fabrication process can also be easily scaled, according to the study authors.
Scientists suggest the production method can be used to create low cost, flexible transparent electrodes that can be integrated into solar cells and electronics.
"This innovation enables us to realize the dream of truly flexible, transparent electrodes matched to needs of the emerging generation of thin film solar cells, as well as having numerous other potential applications ranging from sensors to low-emissivity glass," Warwick chemist Ross Hatton said in a news release.