Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China have published a paper detailing a new method of producing flexible electronics for the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable domains — claiming to be simpler, faster, and greener than rival approaches.
"Flexible electronics as an emerging technology has demonstrated potential for applications in various fields. With the advent of the Internet of Things era, countless flexible electronic systems need to be developed and deployed," the team writes in the paper's abstract. "However, materials and fabrication technologies are the key factors restricting the development and commercialization of flexible electronics."
The proposed solution: A "simple, fast, and green" way to prepare flexible electronics — by stencil-printing liquid metal onto a thermoplastic polyurethane membrane prepared through electrospinning.
Previous attempts to print liquid metal onto a flexible substrate have run into difficulties, the researchers explain, owing to incompatibilities ironed out by the preparation process. Complex electronics can be built up layer-by-layer, the paper explains, while retaining stretchability, air permeability, and stability for long-term use even after repeated cycles of bending.
To prove the concept, the team built a series of flexible devices — including displays, sensors, and a wearable tactile sensing matrix that interfaces with a smartphone — which were then shown to be recycled and reconfigured, a key part of the green claims made by the research team.
The team's work has been published in the journal ACS Nano under closed-access terms.