A research team at Infineon Technologies has claimed that plastic chips will be cheaper than their silicon counterparts, and could offer as many potential applications.
In a technical paper presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference, the team discussed the development of circuit models and rapid circuit designs using polymer electronics.
Even though polymer electronics have been in development globally for several decades, Infineon's research team started from scratch in late 1999 to develop ultra low-cost electronics for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
Project leader Guenter Schmid said that, while volume production of plastic chips remains as much as five years away, the development would allow the integration of plastic electronic circuits on a variety of commercially available packaging films, including the material used to make crisp packets.
He explained that the team's work in polymer electronics is "not pure research and development, but system-level, circuit development" operating in close collaboration with Infineon's circuit designers.
The demand for plastic chips is greatest in the RFID area, according to Schmid.
"There is a growing conviction among experts that, as long as we depend on silicon, RFID tags may never get cheap enough to put on a yoghurt container or a chewing gum wrapper as a barcode replacement," he said.
The researchers argued that RFID is a high performance area and that, in order to keep the overall cost of manufacturing as low as possible, the use of small molecules with good external mobility is essential.
Instead of using polymers, the team decided to use small molecules made of pentacene, a small-molecule organic compound displaying semiconductor properties, because of its ease of handling and the fact that it requires no expensive purification processes or toxic solvents.
In a separate presentation at the conference, Infineon revealed new semiconductor technology that will allow scientists to read electrical signals in living nerve cells.
Infineon researchers worked with scientists at the Max Planck Institute on the new 'biosensor' processor called the neuro-chip.
This is about the size of a fingernail, and has 16,000 sensors that monitor electrical pulses in cells submerged in electrolyte nutrient fluid that coats the semiconductor and keeps the neurons alive.
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