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As Cecil Adams once wrote in his Straight Dope column, one of the more infamous copper-silveralloys was the mixture in Tyco Brahe’s artificial nose. Supposedly, Brahe’s purpose was to get amore flesh-like color, but lower cost may have been a factor too, as it often is with silver alloys.Carbon-silver inks, for example, were developed in response to the 1980s price hikes, and arestill in use today. They are a balance of trade-offs: While they are lower cost, they are also lessconductive than silver alone. In addition, the R&D cost to create the perfect admixture is notinconsiderable.
The allotropes of carbon have such contrasting identities, the element could almost star as ascience fiction superhero. Carbon itself is non-conductive, as is its best-known form, diamond;but as graphite, it is conductive enough to be placed high on the list of silver alternatives.According to Michigan State Chemical Engineering professor Lawrence Drzal, graphites have thepotential to be competitors to traditional conductive additives like copper and silver. His lab hasfashioned xGnP Exfoliated Graphite NanoPlatelets, which as monolayer coatings have aconductivity similar to that of ITO. They are currently being commercialized by XG Sciences, Inc.
Carbon nanotubes may prove to be the ultimate in good news/bad news. IBM Fellow PhaedonAvouris and Columbia University professor Tony Heinz just won the Julius Springer Prize forApplied Physics for demonstrating the possibilities of nanotubes as transistors and logic circuits,along with their optical properties, which open up new realms for nanophotonics. But whilecarbon nanotubes may thrill physicists and chemists, the medical community is considerably lessimpressed. Last May, Ken Donaldson of the University of Edinburgh published a report in NatureNanotechnology  that showed mice exposed to carbon nanotubes exhibited tissue damagesimilar to the effects of asbestos inhalation. The research suggests that far from being benignconfigurations, carbon nanotubes may be potential cancer agents. Calls for regulation arealready being promulgated, what this will ultimately mean for large-scale manufacturing is yetunknown, but it does reduce some of the brave new world optimism.
Alternatives -- Methods
Another approach makes perfect sense in a world becoming ever more conscious of limitednatural resources: simply use less silver, as in smaller particles.
Silver and other Nanoparticles
Nano-sized silver and other conductive inks can be ink-jetted, without the risk of cloggingnozzles, thus saving both material costs and production runs. According to silver ink supplierCabot, the cost savings of ink-jet over screen printing could be considerable, given the potentialreduction in thickness of the ink jet layer. In Cabot’s example, the company compared an 8