High-temperature electronics? That’s hot

A new organic plastic material allows electronics to function at extreme temperatures without sacrificing performance.

A new organic plastic allows electronics to function in extreme temperatures without sacrificing performance. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)
A new organic plastic allows electronics to function in extreme temperatures without sacrificing performance. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Most electronics only function within a certain temperature range. Now, scientists at Purdue University have blended two organic materials together and created electronics that can withstand extreme heat up to 220 degrees Celsius (428 F).

Jianguo Mei, an assistant professor of organic chemistry at Purdue University said, “Commercial electronics operate between minus 40 and 85 degrees Celsius. Beyond this range, they’re going to malfunction. We created a material that can operate at high temperatures by blending two polymers together.”

One of these is a semiconductor, which can conduct electricity, and the other is a conventional insulating polymer, which is what you might picture when you think of regular plastic. To make this technology work for electronics, the researchers couldn’t just meld the two together – they had to tinker with ratios.

Aristide Gumyusenge, lead author of the paper said, “One of the plastics transports the charge, and the other can withstand high temperatures. When you blend them together, you have to find the right ratio so that they merge nicely and one doesn’t dominate the other.”

Scientists discovered few properties that were essential to making this work happen. The two materials should be perfect to blending and should each be available in generally a similar proportion. This outcome in a composed, interpenetrating system that enables the electrical charge to stream uniformly all through while holding its shape in extreme temperatures.

Brett Savoie, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Purdue said, “A lot of applications are limited by the fact that these plastics will break down at high temperatures, and this could be a way to change that. Solar cells, transistors, and sensors all need to tolerate large temperature changes in many applications, so dealing with stability issues at high temperatures is really critical for polymer-based electronics.”

Mei said, “The researchers will conduct further experiments to figure out what the true temperature limits are (high and low) for their new material. Making organic electronics work in the freezing cold is even more difficult than making them work in extreme heat.”

The paper, describing the study is published Thursday in the journal Science.