The increasingly evident signs of climate change have tended to discredit the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation. Solar and wind power are on the advance, while electric vehicles are largely still regarded as cars of the future. To achieve the major goal of emission-free mobility and power generation, technical innovation has to be matched by materials with special characteristics. Plastics play a decisive role here as they can practically be modified and functionalised at will.
Under specifc production related conditions, plastics can assume the same property as metals and become electrically conductive. The discovery of conductive polymers, which received the Nobel prize in 2000, led to the development of organic electronics and caused a colossal disruption in virtually all areas of engineering.
The fact that plastics are relatively easy to form at will into ultra-light, physically and chemically resistant, highly robust components and parts of almost any shape resulted in innovations which will continue to dominate our view of the world for the foreseeable future. Computer screens, smartphones and ﬂatscreen TVs are not only getting ever slimmer, they can also be ﬂexed in any direction.
By applying conductive substances to the surface, it is possible to produce touchscreens that click, vibrate or push back when they are touched, producing a responsive haptic feedback. Window panes and house facades can be covered over with films that convert sunlight into energy and generate electricity and heat exactly where they are needed. Ultrathin layers of silicone printed with tiny electronic components become highly responsive sensors that monitor bodily functions. Plastic batteries, such as those built in to smartphones, answer the need for lightweight, high performing power storage media.
Today’s technologies such as 3D printing have helped to broaden the application spectrum of plastics still further. The properties profle, ranging from antibacterial to conductive, is defned by the substances added to the polymer or applied to its surface.
The Internet of Things (Internet 4.0) is providing further impetus for these developments. The fact that objects are becoming increasingly smart and interconnectable, with electronics that once would have flled a suitcase now ftting inside a palm-sized smartphone, can in part be attributed to functional polymers.
K 2019 provides an impressive panorama of what plastics and rubber are capable of delivering in all the different application areas.