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Swedish researchers utilize air as dopant for organic semiconductors

Semiconductors have transformed the electronic industry, from smartphones, aircraft, and pacemakers to supercomputers and numerous other applications. This mineral, which forms the foundation for modern technologies, shows promise for further advancements.

Researchers at Inköping University, Sweden, have devised a new approach to make organic semiconductors more conductive using air as a dopant.

Scientists say this research is a significant step towards future cheap and sustainable organic semiconductors.

“We believe this method could significantly influence the way we dope organic semiconductors. All components are affordable, easily accessible, and potentially environmentally friendly, which is a prerequisite for future sustainable electronics,” stated Simone Fabiano, associate professor at Linköping University.

Replacing silicon with conductive plastic
This organic semiconductor replaces silicon with conductive plastics due to its myriad of applications such as its use in digital displays, solar cells, LEDs, sensors, implants, and energy storage.

The dopants were introduced to enhance conductivity and advance semiconductor features. They tend to facilitate the movement of electrical charges within the semiconductor material which can be tailored to induce positive (p-doping) or negative (n-doping) charges as per the statement.

Unfortunately, standard dopants are usually very reactive causing them to be unstable or expensive, challenging to manufacture, or all of these.

Scientists were motivated by their research to address the limitations of current doping methods employed in organic electronics and therefore, they crafted a method utilizing readily available and eco-friendly materials to improve semiconductor functionality.

They were inspired by the process of photosynthesis in nature in an attempt to mimic natural processes that improved the conductivity sustainably and efficiently.

Oxygen serves as a dopant
By leveraging light activation and a photocatalyst, the researchers came up with a new approach in which air, mainly oxygen, served as a dopant for organic semiconductors. This method also simplified the doping process, potentially making it more scalable and cost-effective for various electronic applications.

“Our approach was inspired by nature, as it shares many analogies with photosynthesis, for example. In our method, light activates a photocatalyst, which then facilitates electron transfer from a typically inefficient dopant to the organic semiconductor material,” stated Fabiano.

The conductive plastic is immersed in a particular salt solution—a photocatalyst—and then briefly illuminated with light.

The time the material is exposed to light determines the doping level. The solution employed in the process can be reused later while the material becomes p-doped (it gains positive charges). The only substance consumed in this process is oxygen from the air.

This phenomenon is achievable due to the photocatalyst’s function as an “electron shuttle,” which either accepts or donates electrons to the material when exposed to sacrificial weak oxidants or reductants. Interesting Engineering

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