electronic paper
Newly developed electronic paper that is less than a micrometre thin, flexible and can reproduce all the colours that a regular LED display does. (Image credits: Chandlers Universit)

New 1µm Thick Full Color and Bendable Electronic Paper Soon to Become a Reality

The foundation for a new electronic “paper” has recently been developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology. The paper needs ten times less energy than a Kindle tablet, is less than a micrometer thin, flexible and can display all the colors that a regular LED display does.

Chalmers researcher Andreas Dahlin and his PhD student Kunli Xiong were experimenting with placing conductive polymers on nanostructures when they accidentally discovered that the combination would be ideally suited to create electronic displays as thin as paper. The results were ready for publication a year later.

Dahlin explains that the paper is similar to that used for the Kindle eReader. Rather than being lit up like a standard display, it reflects the external light that shines on it. While a standard LED displays work best in darkness, this new paper works very well out in the sun, or anywhere where there is bright light. While a Kindle already uses much less energy than a tablet LED display, this display needs only a tenth of a Kindle’s energy.

The device’s operation depends on the polymers’ ability to control how light is reflected and absorbed. The polymers covering the whole surface guide electric signals through the whole display, thereby enabling it to create images in high resolution. Although the basis has been developed, the material is not yet ready for production. The team has tested and built a few pixels using the primary colors, red, green and blue (RGB). Using these colors together creates all the colors a standard LED display uses. Although the results so far have been positive, the team now has to build pixels that cover an area large enough for a display.

Dahlin believes that even though they are currently working at a fundamental level, taking the step to manufacturing a product shouldn’t be far away, providing they enlist the help of engineers.

Currently, manufacturing would be expensive due to the silver and gold needed in the display. As the gold surface is only 20 nanometers thick there is not that much gold in it, but at present, there is a lot of gold wasted during the manufacturing process. The team has to either reduce the waste, or find other ways to reduce the manufacturing costs.

The best application for the displays will be in well-lit areas such in public places to display information, or outside. Signs and information screens that aren’t currently electronic could be replaced with ones that are more flexible, while the energy consumption of existing electronic signs would be reduced.

The full study was published in the journal Advanced Materials.