A team of scientists based in Canada has discovered what it claims to be a groundbreaking way to develop sustainable, plastic semiconductors.
The chemists, from the University of Waterloo, believe that cheap, flexible and sustainable plastic semiconductors could dominate future technologies.
Professor Derek Schipper and his teams said it could soon be possible to mass produce semiconductors made from a conjugated polymer, a type of plastic that can conduct electricity in a similar way to metals.
They have used a simple dehydration technique - with the byproduct being water - to generate poly(hetero)arenes.
The latter is a form of conjugated polymer, which is commonly used in solar cells, LED displays and chemical sensors.
Through the dehydration process, a series of repeating molecules or monomers are connected like a train. In nature, this is used to create sugars from glucose, while plastic manufacturers use it for nylon and polyester.
"Nature has been using this reaction for billions of years and industry more than a hundred years. It's one of the cheapest and most environmentally friendly reactions for producing plastics," said Schipper.
During the late 1970s, scientists Alan Heeger, Alan McDonald and Hideki Shirakawa discovered the first conjugated polymers. They eventually went on to win the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work.
Since then, researchers and engineers from across the world have created a range of new polymer classes, many of which have been successfully commercialised.
However, Schipper claims that manufacturing these materials in bulk is a difficult task. Companies that invest in them must also plough money into expensive catalysts, which often cause harm to the environment.
The researchers, though, claim that they are perfecting the technique by developing new dehydration synthesis methods for other classes. The results of the study were published in Chemistry - A European Journal.
Schipper added: "Synthesis has been a long-standing problem in this field. dehydration method such as ours will streamline the entire process from discovery of new derivatives to commercial product development. Better still, the reaction proceeds relatively fast and at room temperature."
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