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10 January 2020

Professor John Boland, lead PI at AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, and the School of Chemistry at Trinity College, has secured a European Research Council (ERC) Proof of Concept grant worth €150,000.

This is a top-up for his ERC Advanced grant of €2.5M million awarded in 2013, and follows his Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year Award in 2018.

Seventy-six Proof of Concept grants were awarded to ERC grant holders across Europe this year as top-up funding to explore the commercial or innovation potential of their ERC-funded research.

This Proof of Concept project, named TALNET, will examine the economic and technical feasibility of using nanowire enabled PET (a common transparent plastic) to create the next generation of light, transparent conductive surfaces with applications from smart devices to solar panels.

On receiving the award, Prof. Boland commented: “I am delighted to be awarded this ERC Proof of Concept grant which gives me the opportunity to take my previous discoveries to the prototype stage and to evaluate the commercial potential of the technology. Through my previous ERC Grants we have developed a method of producing seamless aluminium nanowire networks on plastics such as PET – offering real potential for highly efficient flexible devices”.

Transparent conductive devices are all around us, from display screens to touch screens in our phones, laptops or other devices. Prof. Boland’s research into aluminium nanowire networks, a cheap abundant metal, opens new avenues beyond the current market leading material: ITO (indium tin oxide). ITO, which is found in most touch screen devices, has drawbacks in terms of flexibility, being brittle, coupled with the scarcity of indium and the high cost of the ITO film deposition. Also, most display technologies use glass, which also has drawbacks in terms of weight and flexibility. In providing an alternative to these materials Prof. Boland sees great potential for industrial applications of his research:

“The process we have developed enables us to control the distribution of Al nanowires on PET, minimise any deficits in the nanowire network and maximise its efficiency as a transparent conductor on plastic. We can then tune this process according to the requirements of different applications from phone or tablet screens to solar panels. Aluminium is corrosion resistant and hence out-performs other approaches based on copper or silver. With my Proof of Concept grant we have the potential to push past current state of the art for these devices, reducing their cost of production, minimising environmental impact, and improving the overall function of these devices for the end user”.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, commented on the announcement, saying: “The awarding of this Proof of Concept grant to Professor Boland acknowledges the significance of the research work he and his team are undertaking. This highly innovative area of research sits at the forefront of science globally with considerable potential for translation into economic and societal benefits to Ireland and beyond”.

Pictured: Prof. Boland receiving his 2018 SFI Researcher of the Year Award from Prof. Linda Doyle, Vice President for Research/Dean of Research, Trinity College Dublin.

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