The transparent polymer conducts electricity effectively and is initially a bluish tint when it’s cast as a film. Further processing results in a flexible, highly conductive, transparent plastic. (Credit: James Ponder)

Researchers have designed a transparent polymer film that conducts electricity as effectively as other commonly used materials, while also being flexible and easy to use at an industrial scale. The resulting process could yield new kinds of flexible, transparent electronic devices such as wearable biosensors.

To make a plastic film that can carry an electric charge, chemists start with a known polymer backbone — in this case, a popular polymer called PEDOT that is used in industry in certain formulations. It’s great for conducting electricity, but difficult to use in its bare form because it’s insoluble. However, when side chains are added to the PEDOT, it can be dissolved and used like a printable ink or a spray paint. That makes it easy to use and apply. Unfortunately, those side chains are essentially waxy material, and wax isn’t so great at electrical conductivity.

The team creates the polymer with side chains, prints or sprays it to apply, chemically cleaves the side chains, and washes them away with common industrial solvents. After a final conversion step, the result is a flexible, highly conductive film that is stable and impervious to water or other solvents.

The material, which they call PEDOT(OH), can be easily processed to thick films that maintain their conductivity.

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