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| 1 minute read

A green light for flexible electronics

When plastic and the environment share a headline, it is not often in a positive context.

Let the following context be an exception to the rule then. For years, in the world of integrated circuits, semiconductors have reigned supreme.

Integrated circuits are traditionally patterned on silicon-based substrates, also referred to as microchips, or chips. Producing electronics-grade silicon is an incredibly energy- and resource-intensive process. In the age of an ever-expanding internet of things, concerns for the environmental impact of sticking sensors and processors on everything are real.

Every challenge is an opportunity for innovation, and it is here that plastics are presented as a possible solution to the environmental impact of increased semiconductor use.

As more and more objects become connected and smart, a lot of the applications they are intended for do not require a state of the art processor. In such low-spec applications, opportunities open up for new and alternative technologies. Flexible electronics is one of them. Flexible electronics patterned onto a plastic substrate can be greener, more affordable, and cleaner. The costs and energy requirements for plastic substrate production are significantly lower than for silicon. The author of the attached article even floats the future possibility of biodegradable substrates as alternatives to plastic.

This will not be a paradigm shift. As the article states; “flexible chips will not replace silicon chips.” While plastic chips cannot match the high performance of silicon, they may be a viable option for many applications, given their performance on cost, speed, and (relative) ease of production.

Flexible electronics is a growing and accelerating market. If you are active in this sector, or are considering using flexible electronics for your smart applications, it is important to protect your Intellectual Property before someone beats you to it. When it comes to patenting your invention, many different patent offices around the world offer accelerated and/or discounted processes for environmentally friendly inventions. The UK Intellectual Property Office has a ‘green channel’ that provides accelerated processing for patent applications that have an environmental benefit.

Flexible chips deliver "good enough" performance at a fraction of the cost and carbon footprint. This, along with their flexible form factor, means they can be used where it would not be cost-effective—or even possible—to use conventional electronics.


data & connectivity, digital transformation, energy & environment, internet of things, patents, yes