A semiconductor with organic and inorganic materials that can efficiently convert electricity into light and is also flexible and thin enough to make devices like mobile phones bendable, has been invented by engineers at the Australian National University (ANU).

According to the ANU engineers, the invention opens the door to a new generation of high-performance electronic devices made with organic materials, which will be biodegradable or that can be easily recycled. Ultimately, this innovation could help to substantially reduce e-waste. 

Australia produces 200,000 tonnes of e-waste every year, but only four per cent of that waste is recycled.

The organic component has the thickness of just one atom, which is made from just carbon and hydrogen, and forms part of the semiconductor that the ANU team developed. The inorganic component has the thickness of around two atoms.

The hybrid structure is said to be capable of converting electricity into light efficiently for displays on mobile phones, televisions and other electronic devices.

ANU engineers grew the organic semiconductor component molecule by molecule, in a similar way to 3D printing, which is a process known as chemical vapour deposition. 

ANU Research School of Engineering lead engineer and associate professor Larry Lu said the invention was a major breakthrough in the field.

"For the first time, we have developed an ultra-thin electronics component with excellent semiconducting properties that is an organic-inorganic hybrid structure, which is thin and flexible enough for future technologies, such as bendable mobile phones and display screens," Lu said.

"We characterised the opto-electronic and electrical properties of our invention to confirm the tremendous potential of it to be used as a future semiconductor component.

"The semiconductor could be recycled multiple times and could target a lot of the world's plastic and electronic waste.

"We are working on growing our semiconductor component on a large-scale, so it can be commercialised in collaboration with prospective industry partners." 

According to PhD researcher Ankur Sharma, experiments demonstrated the performance of their semiconductor would be much more efficient than conventional semiconductors made with inorganic materials such as silicon.

"We have the potential with this semiconductor to make mobile phones as powerful as today's supercomputers," Sharma continued.

"The light emission from our semiconducting structure is very sharp, so it can be used for high-resolution displays and since the materials are ultra-thin, they have the flexibility to be made into bendable screens and mobile phones in the near future."