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Move Over Silver....Alternatives to Silver Inks

Move Over Silver....Alternatives to Silver Inks

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Published by NanoMarkets

NanoMarkets predicts that by 2015, 184.5 million ounces of silver will be used by the electronics industry (see report, Silver Inks and Pastes for Printable Electronics: 2008-2015). This isn't surprising, given that silver is more conductive than copper, gold or any other element; even its oxide is conductive. Unfortunately, silver prices often reflect demands completely unrelated to availability, causing squeamishness among industrial users. Even without the drama of the Hunt Brothers infamous 1980 attempt to manipulate the market, it is prudent to consider lower-cost alternatives to silver. These could be in any form from other minerals to silver alloys and even novel production methods.

NanoMarkets predicts that by 2015, 184.5 million ounces of silver will be used by the electronics industry (see report, Silver Inks and Pastes for Printable Electronics: 2008-2015). This isn't surprising, given that silver is more conductive than copper, gold or any other element; even its oxide is conductive. Unfortunately, silver prices often reflect demands completely unrelated to availability, causing squeamishness among industrial users. Even without the drama of the Hunt Brothers infamous 1980 attempt to manipulate the market, it is prudent to consider lower-cost alternatives to silver. These could be in any form from other minerals to silver alloys and even novel production methods.

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Published by: NanoMarkets on Oct 24, 2008
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NanoMarkets
NanoMarkets, LC |PO Box 3840 |Glen Allen, VA 23058 |TEL: 804-360-2967|FAX: 804-360-2967
thin film|organic|printable|electronics
 
www.nanomarkets.net
Page | 1
Move Over Silver …
Alternatives to Silver Inks
NanoMarkets predicts that by 2015, 184.5 million ounces of silver will be used by the electronicsindustry (see report,
Silver Inks and Pastes for Printable Electronics: 2008-2015
). This isn’tsurprising, given that silver is more conductive than copper, gold or any other element; even itsoxide is conductive. Unfortunately, silver prices often reflect demands completely unrelated toavailability, causing squeamishness among industrial users. Even without the drama of the HuntBrothers infamous 1980 attempt to manipulate the market, it is prudent to consider lower-costalternatives to silver. These could be in any form from other minerals to silver alloys and evennovel production methods.
Alternatives -- Materials
In some applications, such as medical implants, silver can be replaced with substitute materialssuch as titanium or biocompatible polymers. But in industrial applications where conductivity isimportant, the first alternative that comes to mind is usually copper.
Pure Copper
Initially, copper may seem like an ideal substitute for silver. While it has 95 percent of silver’sconductivity, it’s only one percent of its price. What’s not to like? Plenty, as it turns out.Copper oxide, the verdigris that makes the Statue of Liberty green, is non-conducting. While itdoes protect the underlying metal from oxidizing further, the challenge of oxidation remains atany scale, if there is a chance of exposure to air. Worse, at a small enough size, copper powder isso reactive, it can ignite. This may be fun in high school chem lab, but a disaster for large-scalemanufacturing.Formulations have been created that reduce the chances of oxidation, but they add to the price.Silver-plated copper inks remain a potential option for printed RFID tags, especially in situationswhere economics dictate that they can barely be priced above paper barcodes (such asinventory-tracking of inexpensive parts and goods).One solution is the creation of copper nanoparticles. According to Vivek Subramanian, associateprofessor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California,Berkeley, copper nanoparticles are as conductive as silver, but suffer from the oxidationproblem, and therefore require sintering in nitrogen or formalin gas. Subramanian’s teamstudies the metallic, semiconductor, and insulating nanoparticles for use in printable inks.
 
NanoMarkets
NanoMarkets, LC |PO Box 3840 |Glen Allen, VA 23058 |TEL: 804-360-2967|FAX: 804-360-2967
thin film|organic|printable|electronics
 
www.nanomarkets.net
Page | 2
Alloys
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.
Carbon/Graphite
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
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 [1] 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

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