Dutch researchers develop ‘flexiramics’ — low-cost, flexible ceramics for circuit boards

Dutch researchers develop ‘flexiramics’ — low-cost, flexible ceramics for circuit boards

Eurekite

Ceramics make up a whole lot of useful technology, such as body armor, space shuttle heat-shield tiles, and transparent aluminum. Now a trio of alchemical adepts working in a lab in Holland have come up with a flexible, nonconductive ceramic polymer that comes in bendable, foldable, fireproof sheets.

The new material, with the working title “flexiramics,” comes from a startup called Eurekite at the University of Twente, Ars Technica UK reports. Eurekite wants to use the new material in a flexible PCB, combining the flexibility and lightness of a polymer with the thermal and dielectric properties of a ceramic. A 4×4 swatch of the material will cost under €1, and the market price of a PCB based on it would be “similar” to current industry pricing, according to Gerard Gazquez, the CEO of Eurekite and one of its founding members.

flexiramics_4_5001

Flexible!

When most of us hear “ceramic,” we probably think “clay.” But there’s more to it than that. Ceramics are defined by the bonds between their constituent molecules, in this age of high-test technoindustrial applications. Sadly, though, that just muddies the waters; the breadth of the category means that ceramics can be amorphous or highly crystalline, they can be made of almost all the chemical elements, and they may or may not need to go through a kiln to achieve their final form. The one thing they all have in common is that ceramics are pretty hardcore. They have exceptional durability and a high melt point, and they tend to be inert glasslike substances that don’t react with much of anything.

The fact that new material is so not-glasslike is what makes it so noteworthy. Ceramics don’t typically form polymers as much as they do crystals. Having a crystalline structure means that ceramics can be a lot harder than steel — see also ceramic knives and ball bearings — but it also means that whatever the ceramic part is, it’ll probably be sensitive to shock and it may break when dropped.

Eurekite

But flexiramics, by way of its unique properties, just doesn’t have these problems. It doesn’t conduct electricity and won’t shatter. Plus, it doesn’t burn, at least not yet: true to its ceramic pedigree, flexiramics has better thermal properties than most other flexible circuit substrates, about which Wikipedia diplomatically notes “carbon-based polymers are more susceptible to thermal degradation.” The heat sources in their lab can only reach the relatively pedestrian temperature of 1200° C – about 2200° F, which is enough to melt cast iron — or to slag the contacts out of any chip application featuring this stuff. Holding it at these temperatures for 24 hours left the new material unfazed.

It’s probably safe to say that the temperatures achieved in most consumer applications won’t be enough to melt the traces off their substrate. All the same, Eurekite wants to see flexiramics in use for heavy-duty applications under extreme conditions. They’ve already filed a patent application for flexiramics. There does exist prior art: There are other companies producing ceramic polymer hybrids, and even other companies producing ceramics for electronic uses. But Eurekite says it’s the only one that can vary the thickness of their material, from “a few micrometers to over a millimeter.”

“The discovery of flexiramics came as a surprise,” Gerard Gazquez, the CEO of Eurekite and one of its founding members, told Ars Technica UK. “It happens sometimes that you discover something you’re not looking for. I took [the samples] out after an experiment and saw it was a flexible material, so my first reaction was — okay, it didn’t work. But soon after, I realized it didn’t burn.” Here’s to more such happy scientific accidents.

[Extremetech.com]

February 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,

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