A research team led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has introduced a groundbreaking technology named “supramolecular ink” designed for use in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays and other electronic devices. This innovative material, composed of cost-effective, Earth-abundant elements rather than rare and expensive metals, has the potential to facilitate the creation of more affordable and environmentally sustainable flat-panel screens and electronic devices.

Principal investigator Peidong Yang, a faculty senior scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley, expressed enthusiasm about the transformative impact of this technology on the OLED display industry. He highlighted the versatility of supramolecular ink, stating that it could extend its application to organic printable films for wearable devices, as well as luminescent art and sculpture.

OLED screens, known for their lightweight, thin design, energy efficiency, and superior picture quality, have become prevalent in smartphones and flat-panel TVs. However, these displays often incorporate rare and costly metals like iridium. The Berkeley Lab team’s supramolecular ink, detailed in a recent study published in the journal Science, offers a potential solution by presenting a cost-effective fabrication process for electronics display manufacturers.

The supramolecular ink consists of powders containing hafnium (Hf) and zirconium (Zr), creating a semiconductor “ink” that can be mixed at low temperatures. This “LEGO block” approach, termed supramolecular assembly, allows for stable and high-purity synthesis at low temperatures, as explained by Cheng Zhu, co-first author and a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley.

Spectroscopy experiments confirmed that the supramolecular ink efficiently emits blue and green light, indicating its potential as an energy-efficient OLED emitter for electronic displays and 3D printing. The near-unity quantum efficiency exhibited by the ink compounds during optical experiments further emphasizes their ability to convert absorbed light into visible light effectively.

The researchers demonstrated the material’s color tunability and luminescence in an OLED thin-film display prototype, showcasing its suitability for programmable electronic displays. The supramolecular ink also proved compatible with 3D printing technologies, offering possibilities for decorative OLED lighting.

Beyond electronic displays, the researchers envision broader applications, including wearable devices with illuminated safety features for low-light conditions and high-tech clothing displaying information through the supramolecular light-emitting structures.

Notably, the supramolecular ink aligns with the Peidong Yang lab’s commitment to developing sustainable materials for cost-effective and energy-efficient semiconductor manufacturing. The material’s stability and shelf life make it a promising candidate for commercial advancements in ionic halide perovskites, a thin-film solar material with potential applications in displays. Unlike high-performance halide perovskites containing lead, the supramolecular ink offers a lead-free formulation without compromising performance.

Looking ahead, the researchers are focusing on exploring the material’s electroluminescent potential, delving into its capability to emit light through electrical excitation. This crucial step will shed light on the full potential of the supramolecular ink for creating efficient light-emitting devices. The study, supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, opens the door to further research and potential applications, positioning the supramolecular ink as a promising technology for the future.

By Impact Lab