Conducting metal oxide materials for printed electronics
thesisposted on 11.06.2020, 10:25 by Jack McGhee
Printed electronics as a manufacturing process has many advantages, mainly, it allows for the high throughput rapid fabrication of thin, flexible electronic components with minimal waste. There are many printing processes that can be utilised for printing electronics and although each process can differ vastly, the materials currently used in these processes are generally the same, silver and carbon. However, to develop printing as a more mainstream manufacturing method for electronics, a wider variety of materials are required which can provide better stability and longevity of components, new functionality for printed applications and allow for in-situ processing and tuning of components. Conducting metal oxides are a good candidate for integrating into printed electronics processes, these materials are typically semiconductors, they have bandgaps, and properties can be altered via altering the band gap. They are also oxides, so they cannot oxidise further and therefore atmospheric damage is reduced compared to pure metals. They can also be fabricated into a wide range of particle morphologies, all with advantages in different fields and electronic applications. Therefore, the ability to print these materials is valuable to the field.
In this thesis, the integration of conducting metal oxide electro-ceramic materials into the field of printed electronics has been explored. This was performed through the completion of five research objectives including, the selection of appropriate materials for the research, the formulation of conductive inks with the materials, the investigation of post-processing techniques for printed films and further research into passive component fabrication and sensor applications. Firstly, following an extensive literature review, four materials were selected including three doped zinc oxide materials synthesised via different methods. The fourth material is commercially sourced indium tin oxide (ITO). A nitrocellulose vehicle was determined to be the most compatible with the oxides and selected for ink formulation. Inks were then formulated with all four materials, with optical and electrical properties analysed. Gallium doped Zinc Oxide (GZO) and ITO were selected for further investigation based on the excellent conductivity of the indium tin oxide (57.77Ω□-1) and the highly transparent optical properties of the gallium doped zinc oxide (>84% transmittance).
Laser processing was selected as a post processing method. It was found that the laser processing dramatically increased conductivity. The GZO improving from a non-conductive film to 10.21% of bulk conductivity. The ITO improved from 3.46% to 40.47% of the bulk conductivity. It was also found that the laser processing invoked a carbothermal reduction process allowing for a rapid manufacturing process for converting spherical particles into useful nanoparticle morphologies (nanorods, nanowires etc). Following this, resistive and capacitive applications involving laser processing and conventionally heat-treated conductive oxide inks were developed. Combining the new materials and manufacturing processes, tuneable printed resistors with a tuning range of 50 to 20M could be fabricated. All metal oxide, ITO based capacitors were also fabricated and characterised. These were then developed into humidity sensors which provided excellent humidity sensing properties, showing linearity between 5 and 95% relative humidity (RH) and sensitivities of up to 7.76pF/RH%, demonstrating higher performance than commercial equivalents (0.2 – 0.5pF/RH%). In conclusion, this work provides a breakthrough for conductive metal oxide materials research and its place in Printed Electronics research by providing insight into the processes required to make these materials conduct and by developing useful manufacturing methods, post processing techniques and applications.