Electronics solutions: Arkema, high-tech market player
Futuristic organic electronics promise new applications for Arkema. Our nanostructured polymers are a leap forward in microelectronics and our electroactive polymers pave the way for a host of functionalized, connected objects.
Our expertise in high-value-added polymers, developed in partnership with basic research laboratories, start-ups and semiconductor manufacturers, makes us a pioneer in this high-tech niche.
“We’ve seen how the polymers that come out of our labs stack up against their potential applications and production requirements” explains Ian Cayrefourcq, Vice President, Emerging Technologies at Arkema.
Nanolithography: the challenge of printed circuit miniaturization
Current microelectronics technology using photolithography on silicon to make printed circuits has reached its limits, unable to push resolution below 40 nanometers.
In France, Arkema has joined forces with the research institute CEA-Leti in Grenoble and the organic polymer chemistry lab LCPO in Bordeaux in a high-stakes project to develop electronic nanocomponents. Called “directed self-assembly” (DSA) lithography, the process relies on the ability of certain copolymers to self-organize on a nanometric scale (one billionth of a meter). The resulting geometric patterns — or nanocircuits — offer extremely fine resolution (5 to 10 nanometers) and can be precisely customized.
Nanolithography makes it possible to design less energy-intensive circuits with ten times more capacity. Thus continuing to miniaturize chips, doubling processor performance every 18 months in accordance with "Moore's Law," which has guided the semiconductor market for more than 40 years.
Following successful laboratory testing, Arkema teamed up with various semiconductor leaders — including Intel, STMicroelectronics and Brewer Science — on two projects supported by the European Union: Placyd and CoLiSA. The goal is to build pilot production lines and move a step closer to commercial scale-up.
The connected object and haptic1 interface revolutions
Through our subsidiary Piezotech®, Arkema is developing a line of fluoropolymers that are electroactive, or piezoelectric. That means that they change shape when stimulated by an electrical field and, conversely, generate current under mechanical pressure. They set the stage for objects that are interactive and connected. Examples in medicine include sensors to measure temperature and blood pressure or surgical guides that can be positioned to within one millimeter; applications in transportation include sensors that can recover mechanical energy and store it as electrical energy.
Electroactive polymer films will also be used for ultra-sensitive touch interfaces that will transmit very realistic sensations to users. Examples include a paper-thin flexible keyboard with keys that vibrate when struck, an interactive car dashboard, and flexible smartphones. Arkema is collaborating here with the U.S. start-up Novasentis to develop miniaturized haptic interfaces, a major innovation in electronics.
1 - Haptics refers to the science of touch, as acoustics refers to sound and optics to sight.
Printed electronics: circuits on (almost) any substrate
We and our subsidiary Piezotech® have a piezoelectric polymeric ink that will permit printed electronics on substrates such as fabric, paper and flexible plastics. It turns out that it's much simpler and cheaper to print with these conductive inks than to make silicon-circuit-based components.
Many everyday objects including smart labels and clothing, connected packaging and medical monitoring devices will be printable using such inks and will act as sensors (temperature, impact, moisture and more) and real-time information relays.
Arkema collaborates in this field with the Flexible Organic Electronics Laboratory of the prestigious Yamagota University in Japan.