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Materials key to energy harvesting for wearables

By 2025 over $25bn will be spent on formulations and intermediate materials for wearable technology, forecasts a brand new report by analysts IDTechEx. 
 
Today's devices demand to be compact, comfortable, flexible - even transparent -and  affordability means they can be disposable. Increasingly, devices are also invisibly hidden in or under clothing, implantable or otherwise inaccessible. A frequent necessity is that they should never be short of electricity.
 
It’s a matter of making devices differently and, according to the report, that’s where structural electronics come in and where smart materials are key.
 
The report examines materials - such as polyvinylidene difluoride - which are low risk because they are useful in many different ways, and the different formulations that are being used in planned integrated devices for the future. There is great interest in lithium, indium and titanium salts, for example, as well as graphene, for future batteries, supercapacitors, flexible displays.
 
From electronic printing inks to metal feedstock for the new higher speed, lower cost 3D printing, IDTechEx identifiy plenty of opportunities in this space. 
 
A 2014 KTN special interest publication, “Plastic Electronics,” identified further research activity: tiny inorganic nano particles, known as quantum dots, carbon structures such as graphene, nanotubes, buckyball magnets and the amazing new metamaterials that can even render things invisible and lead to previously impossible forms of electronics.
 
Materials R&D, says the KTN publication, is as a whole, one of the strongest areas in UK printed or plastic electronics. This a multi-disciplinary technology which enables circuits to be printed or deposited onto a range of surfaces (both rigid and flexible) and so opens the door to a new generation of innovative products that can be produced more cheaply and in a more energy-conscious way than previously viable. The potential for manufacturing is huge. But many challenges in improving electrical performance, processibility and stability of materials still exist. 
 
UK companies involved in this space include Merck - a Southampton based company which is developing novel materials systems for organic photovoltaics and flexible displays - and SmartKem: leading the way with their proprietary polymer organic semi-conductor that is not only air stable, but can also be inkjet printed. The latter recently announced the opening of a new thin-film-transistor (TFT) fabrication and testing facility at its Manchester site - doubling the size of the company.
 
The KTN’s Powering Wearables Workshop presents an opportunity to see state of the art energy harvesting technologies being developed in the UK to power implantables and other wearables, and also to discover the biggest challenges in this field. The workshop is takiing place in Durham on 4 March 2015, more details are available here
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