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Overcoming the limitations of silver nanowire electrodes for light emitting applications


The global lighting market is projected to exceed 100 billion dollars by 2020, undergoing rapid transitions driven by technological advancements. In conjunction with increased demand for new technology, global regulations have become increasingly stringent, mandating the development and implementation of more fuel-efficient light sources. As prior generations of lighting technology such as incandescent bulbs and florescent lighting progressively become phased out, newer technologies such as light emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) have become progressively popular and commonplace. Though they still lag behind LEDs in terms of market penetration, OLEDs have garnered increasing amounts of attention in recent years due to unique attributes such as their exotic and large scale form factors, mechanical flexibility, and potential for high volume, low-cost manufacturing. Unfortunately, the costs for OLED manufacturing are currently still prohibitively high for several applications, with the anode and substrate representing 20-25 percent of this total cost. Significant technical and processing improvements for OLED substrates are of utmost necessity for fiscal cost reduction and commercialization of OLED technology.

Silver nanowires have gained traction as a potential replacement for the current status quo, indium tin oxide (ITO) due to attributes such as flexibility, low cost processing, and high optoelectronic properties. However, due to nanoscale size effects, the integration of silver nanowires in both process flows and operational use has proven to be problematic. This work makes several key contributions towards enabling the use of silver nanowires for practical and commercial applications within the lighting industry. First, a novel method for the fabrication of a high temperature-stable, flexible substrate with surface roughness (Ra) < 2 nm is presented, based on atomic layer deposition of a conformal metal oxide film on silver nanowires. This development of a thermally stable AgNW based substrate is critical for the future of flexible OLEDs, as both polymers and AgNWs are unstable at elevated temperatures required for certain OLED processing. However, at the time publication, no solutions existed for flexible OLED substrates simultaneously having thermal stability in excess of 230 °C for more than a few minutes while maintaining a smooth surface for subsequent device fabrication. The thermally stable silver nanowires developed in this work are able to withstand temperatures of 500 °C in ramping tests, and when integrated with a thermally stable polymer matrix, withstand temperatures of 300 °C for at least 6 hours, representing an increase in allowable processing temperatures of 70 °C for several hours longer. Resulting polymer light emitting devices (PLEDs) requiring high temperature processing fabricated on this thermally stable exhibit comparable performance to the same devices fabricated on ITO, validating its compatibility for integration in traditional process flows, and validity for use in extreme processing conditions.

Secondly, the aforementioned method is applied to understanding the electrical stability of silver nanowires. At the time of publication, previous works on the electrical failure of silver nanowires centered on the observation of failure under current flow, without a solution offered for how to mitigate the phenomenon. However, because the underlying purpose of these electrodes is to transport current, providing a solution for the failure flow is paramount to the success of AgNWs in future commercial applications. The importance of the development of this solution cannot be understated, especially in light of the fact that silver nanowires have been shown to fail under electrical stresses below typical operating conditions of various optoelectronic devices. The same technique mentioned previously can be leveraged for electrically stable silver nanowire networks, which show significant morphological stability over pristine silver nanowires when electrically stressed at normal operating conditions for OLEDs. These electrically stable substrates were able to produce high performance OLEDs with lifetimes 140% longer than the same devices fabricated on ITO, and 20% higher than non-electrically stable AgNW-based substrates.

Thirdly, the thermally and electrically stable substrate was used to fabricate a high performing perovskite quantum dot light-emitting device exhibiting high flexibility. The use of quantum dots instead of perovskite precursors and post treatment to convert the precursors to perovskite allowed for several new innovations. Due to the elimination of highly polar solvents typically required with perovskite precursors, a broadened range of architectures can be achieved. Furthermore, due to the small dimensions of the quantum dots in contrast to thick films of perovskite formed from precursors, the active layer can extremely thin, allowing for high mechanical flexibility. The performance metrics achieved of 10.4 cd/A, 8.1 lm/W, and 2.6% EQE at a brightness of 1000 cd/m2 were enabled in part by the substrate, which further allowed for the high mechanical performance. The electroluminescence performance of the perovskite quantum dot LEDs was found to be virtually fully recoverable after being subjected to a bending radius of 2.5 mm, or repeated cycles of bending and unbending to a 4 mm radius, representing the first report of a highly flexible and mechanically perovskite quantum dot light emitting device with high electroluminescence performance.

The improved stability of AgNWs with regards to both manufacturing and operational use, in addition to proof of concept in various light emitting devices demonstrates the potential of this technology for large-scale, commercial lighting applications.

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