Liten is a major European research institute and a driving force behind the development of the sustainable energy technologies of the future. The institute is spearheading the EU’s efforts to limit dependency on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in three key areas: renewable energy, energy efficiency/storage and development of materials.
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Article | Energies | Energy efficiency
Printed components: technologies and processes for tomorrow’s printed organic electronics industry
Since the mid-2000s, Liten has been investing its resources in the research and development of techniques for printing electronic components onto large-area and flexible substrates. This disruptive technology is fundamentally different from traditional silicon-based technologies, as the components are formed by printing successive layers of ink with specific properties—conductive, insulating, semiconductive, or ferroelectric—onto either flexible or rigid surfaces. The technology has considerable benefits: it allows manufacturers to produce electronic devices that are flexible, thin, and conformable; that can be integrated onto different types of media (plastic, paper, textiles); and that can cover large areas. This method drives down production and system costs, paving the way towards new applications that turn simple surfaces into “smart” surfaces.
Working in partnership with a textile manufacturer, Liten initially concentrated its efforts on developing printed electronics applications for consumer devices and smart packaging, with integrated printed sensors (temperature, pressure) and simple electronic circuits containing printed transistors. In a later partnership with the company Isorg, we turned our attention to the new technological field of electro-optical sensors (photodetectors), which are marketed for diverse uses such as non-contact human-machine interfaces (HMI), logistics, smart buildings, and more. The technology gives surfaces the ability to “see” through the optical sensors printed onto them to detect objects or movement. More recently, we have been exploring printed electronics applications in healthcare (endemic diseases), wellness (cosmetics), and the silver economy (at-home monitoring services for assisted living). To that end, Liten partnered with Leti on several projects geared towards developing biosensors, including lactate sensors that track muscular activity, carbon dioxide detectors that monitor sleep apnea, and blood glucose sensors for diabetes patients. We have already developed prototypes of these different biosensors and are currently in negotiations with several companies who work in each of the aforementioned markets. The Internet of Things also presents itself as a very promising market because of its reliance on various types of sensors (physical, biological, chemical), circuits, antennas, and ultra-high frequency (UHF) components—all of which can be printed and developed at Liten. In terms of energy, low-cost sensors can be inserted into proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) for real-time monitoring, or into batteries to monitor certain critical parameters such as the battery’s charge.
Over 30 researchers have been assigned to printed electronics, and their expertise covers the entire value chain, with know-how in fields like materials, printing technologies, component design, electrical characterization, and component reliability. They lead their work both in Liten’s laboratories and at the CEA’s large-area printing platform, PICTIC. The platform gives manufacturers the opportunity to make prototypes and to test equipment before making any of their own investments. PICTIC plays an important role in the preparatory stages of technology scale-up and transfer.
Experts worldwide concur: in the next twenty years, printed organic electronics will be one of the key breakthroughs in the high-tech industry. And the reward will be a big one, with a market potential estimated at over $50 billion as early as 2020. For the past ten years, Liten has been preparing for this transition and has positioned itself as one of the five most advanced research centers in the world in this field.
Priming printed organic electronics applications for future adoption by technology manufacturers
The low cost of components and low CapEx necessary for their production makes these devices particularly attractive for SMEs and market newcomers. For these same reasons, they are particularly well suited to different types of everyday use (Internet of Things, disposable biosensors).
The nature of this technology—allowing components to be deposited by printing onto “functionalized” flexible and conformable large surfaces—has made countless new uses possible.
The technology can combine multiple components—physical sensors (temperature, pressure), biosensors, antennas, and transistors—on the same surface, thereby optimizing the available functions.
It can be adapted to different media (paper, plastic, textiles) and, with almost completely transparent materials, be used to create a variety of aesthetic effects on products.
It has a low environmental footprint owing to its use of carbon-based materials, lower-temperature and more energy-efficient processes, and savings on materials generated by the printing process.
Future applications of the technology will bring new solutions for impending societal issues (longer life expectancy, health, comfort, wellness).
Liten is working on multiple projects that give its researchers the opportunity to make significant, state-of-the-art advances, as well as the opportunity to devise and refine new applications for manufacturers.
Printronics (2007–2010): as a result of this project, Liten has developed printed transistors (Sofileta), passive UHF components (ST Tours), and polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) for use in human machine interfaces (HMI) (Schneider Electric)
Roxstar (2012–2016): development of printed photodector technology (Isorg), notably for health applications (Trixell)
Sécuri-Sport (2015–2018): study of the viability of pressure sensors for use in footwear (FeetMe)
Armature (2015–2018): development of a printed antenna for UHF broadcasting (TPL)
COSMIC FP7 (2010–2013): development of printed CMOS transistor technologies and the construction of circuits
iFlexis FP7 (2013–2015): printing of X-ray detectors (direct conversion)
ATLASS H2020 (2015–2018): printing of a transistor matrix with reduced dimensions for detection applications and the Internet of Things
HAPPINESS H2020 (2015–2018): printing of piezoelectric sensors for haptic applications
LORIX H2020 (2015–2018): printed large-area, flexible technology for X-ray photodetection
Printed photodetectors – Isorg
Printed PLEDs – European manufacturer
Simple printed devices such as resistors and sensors – French printers
About 30 researchers, technicians, and PhD students
About 80 patents
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CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.