The new electronic paper can display the Chalmers’ logo in full color. Photo: Kunli Xiong.
The new electronic paper can display the Chalmers’ logo in full color. Photo: Kunli Xiong.

New electronic ‘paper’ developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden is flexible, less than 1µm thick and can show off the same range of colors as a regular LED display, but requires 10 times less energy than a Kindle tablet. The electronic paper is described in Advanced Materials.

When Chalmers researcher Andreas Dahlin and his PhD student Kunli Xiong experimented with placing conductive polymers on nanostructures, they discovered that the resultant material would be perfectly suited to creating electronic displays as thin as paper. A year later their results were ready for publication.

"The ’paper’ is similar to the Kindle tablet," says Dahlin. "It isn’t lit up like a standard display, but rather reflects the external light which illuminates it. Therefore, it works very well where there is bright light, such as out in the sun, in contrast to standard LED displays that work best in darkness. At the same time, it needs only a tenth of the energy that a Kindle tablet uses, which itself uses much less energy than a tablet LED display."

It all comes down to the polymers’ ability to control how light is absorbed and reflected. The polymer covers the whole surface of the paper, conducting electric signals throughout the full display and creating images in high resolution.

Although the material is not yet ready for application, the team has already tested and built a few pixels. These use the same red, green and blue (RGB) colors that together create all the colors in standard LED displays. The results so far have been positive, and the next step is to fabricate sufficient pixels to cover an area as large as a display.

“We are working at a fundamental level but even so, the step to manufacturing a product out of it shouldn’t be too far away. What we need now are engineers,” says Dahlin.

One potential stumbling block is that the display contains gold and silver, which could make it expensive to manufacture. “The gold surface is 20nm thick, so there is not that much gold in it", Dahlin explains. "But at present there is a lot of gold wasted in manufacturing it. Either we reduce the waste or we find another way to decrease the manufacturing cost.”

Dahlin thinks the displays will prove most effective in well-lit areas such as outside or in public places to display information. This could reduce energy consumption, and at the same time replace signs and information screens that aren’t currently electronic with more flexible ones.

This story is adapted from material from Chalmers University of Technology, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.