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New paradigm enables ultra-low-power printed electronics for batteryless wearables

A new approach to printed electronics enables easy-to-fabricate circuits with record-low power consumption, paving the way for low-cost electronics that can be seamlessly embedded in the objects and environments of our daily lives.

Electronics that can be fabricated easily and that can function while dissipating very little power is ideal for numerous emerging applications, including wearables for health and wellness monitoring, smart homes, and smart cities. Through a new paradigm in printed thin-film-transistor electronics, our team—including Dr. Portilla as co-lead author and Prof. Pecunia as co-lead author and co-corresponding author—has developed a technology that delivers high-performance circuits capable of operating with unprecedented low levels of supply voltage and power consumption. The results are reported in the journal ACS Nano.

Over the last couple of decades, printing technologies have attracted a considerable amount of attention as a way of making electronics in an inexpensive manner. However, a key longstanding challenge has been to develop printed electronics that can operate with energy and power consumption compatible with real-world applications.

Electronics conventionally employs two distinct semiconductors with complementary characteristics to achieve low-power operation. In the printed electronics realm, this poses the challenge of developing two printable semiconductors with matching characteristics, and additionally leads to considerable complexity from a fabrication point of view. However, for printed electronics to make it to the real world, simplicity is just as essential as low-power operation.

To combine simplicity with low-power operation, we developed the novel paradigm of ‘deep-subthreshold ambipolarity’, which enables the use of one single semiconductor to achieve ultra-low-power printed electronics. We demonstrated this paradigm using transistors featuring carbon nanotubes—a commercially available, printable semiconductor—and a nanomaterials-based strategy to fine-tune their characteristics.

This approach could enable energy-neutral electronics that do not require a battery to operate, but that could use energy harvested from the environment, for instance, from sunlight or from the electromagnetic waves used by our mobile phones. Therefore, this paves the way for electronics that can be deployed seamlessly in devices for biomedical applications, smart homes, infrastructure monitoring, and the exponentially-growing Internet of Things ecosystem.


Reference
L. Portilla*, J. Zhao†, Y. Wang, L. Sun, F. Li, M. Robin, M. Wei, Z. Cui, L. G. Occhipinti†, T. D. Anthopoulos†, V. Pecunia†*, Ambipolar Deep-Subthreshold Printed-Carbon-Nanotube Transistors for Ultralow-Voltage and Ultralow-Power Electronics, ACS Nano, 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c06619


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