One of the problems involved with the manufacture of many consumer electronics that we take for granted these days, such as televisions, laptops, and phones, is the fact that they — more often than not — require the use of rare metals. As it isn’t always possible to secure these supplies from diversified resources, there’s often the looming threat of having the stream of rare metals cut off by natural as well as man made emergencies. If electronics manufacturers in the United States depend on a steady supply of rare metals from China to survive, for instance, and a political gaffe chills relations between the two nations, it’s easy to see how such a dependence could be manipulated to the benefit of the supplier over the needs of the receiver. As we’re not mining extraterrestrial bodies for such resources, we’re sort of stuck with our current network of suppliers and demanders — or are we?
Eindhoven University of Technology researchers Paul van der Schoot and Cor Koninghave have been able to concoct an environmentally friendly, water-based replacement for indium tin oxide, a rare metal used in the creation of television, phone, and laptop displays that experts estimate will expire in nature as soon as a decade from now. The replacement is composed of common materials, is produced in water, and is based on carbon nanotubes and plastic nanoparticles that are able to conduct electricity nearly as well as the scarce indium tin oxide. The scientists hope this will prove to enlighten the scientific community in an approach toward moving away from other complex composite materials with similar replacements.
“We used standard carbon nanotubes, a mixture of metallic conducting and semiconducting tubes,” says Cor Koning. “But as soon as you start to use 100 percent metallic tubes, the conductivity increases greatly. The production technology for 100 percent metallic tubes has just been developed, and we expect the price to fall rapidly.”