back to article Chemists create current-bearing plastic

Chemists have found a new way of producing plastic that conducts electricity, potentially paving the way to cheaper, more robust and er, more plasticky computers. Polymer electronics isn't new, and the printed electronics business is reckoned to be worth around $2bn, although not all the printing goes onto polymers. But with …


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  1. Buzzword
    Thumb Up

    Copper thefts

    Does this mean the end of expensive copper cable thefts from railways and telephone lines? More generally, is the high price of copper set to tumble once this becomes widely available?

    1. Brian 6


      I see problems. How you going to solder a plastic wire ? If u use it in CPU's will it stand up to the heat ?? And lastly wont it be just profits that go up rather than retail prices going down ??

      1. Juillen 1


        | How you going to solder a plastic wire ?

        Well, with molten conductive plastic perhaps? Who'd need regular solder? Maybe even just point melt the 'tracks' together?

        | If u use it in CPU's will it stand up to the heat

        Errr... If you're stupid enough to put things in products without testing their applicability for doing so, then you deserve to lose all your money and go bankrupt. It'll be used in areas where there are advantages to doing so. Why not ask if it can be used as a thermal sensor for magma?

        | And lastly wont it be just profits that go up rather than retail prices going down?

        Probably both. Cheaper tech when people re-tool, but competition in the market means they'll end up undercutting (to a degree) to try and gain market share. And the market finds its equilibrium, as it already has for prices to arrive where they are.

      2. Dave 15

        Profits up, not prices down, what an unlikely scenario

        Given the BofE's apparent interest in raising UK interest rates in order to stave off all those global price hikes in oil, food, commodoties etc.

        With the BofE fully behind reducing inflation of course this new invention will cause prices to tumble in the new highly interested UK... and therefore equally of course around the whole world.

        As for soldering the plastic together - whats wrong with glue - computers could then be just like airfix models :) :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Most copper thefts happen at places like substations and railway lines, and while printed electronics is great for things with relatively low voltage and current such as computers, i personally cant see printed electronics surviving high current, high voltage transmission.

      What that situation really needs is more regular inspection of scrap dealers, and making them ask questions like "So how did you come to have cable marked 'British Rail'? Hmm?"

      Of course, i dont see that happening in the current financial climate.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or perhaps

      It will just mean in increase in plastic thefts?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the layercake.

    Looking forward to see what thinly sandwiched layers of variously-conducting plastic might do beyond the obvious.

  3. Tim Parker


    "Oh my God...."

    "What is it ?"

    "I think... I think... ohmygod... I *think* it's an Andrew Orlowski comments section... "

    "Oh for Lords sake man, don't be so stupid - those are just old wives tales - no such thing - absolutely ridiculous. For one minute I thought we had something important to.. "

    "No NO - seriously ! Look, over there, the mummified body .. "

    "What - the one holding the hockey stick ?"

    "Yes - i'm sure that's one those fabled people who did Believe the Great Truth Of Andrews View Of All Climate Science... they were supposedly responsible for him closing the comments sections in the first place with their never ending attempts at reasoned debate and use of science.. oh course they were doomed, even if they were right - which was a cause of great debate back then"

    "Doomed - why man, why ?"

    "Well for one - they couldn't shout as loudly as the True Believers of Andrew - that's what seemed to be the one of the main factors in deciding a winner in the Comments.... secondly, they all froze to death during the little Ice Age during the Page minimum of the early 21st century..."

    "What happened to them then, all gone ?"

    "Pretty much - yeah. When the Great Doors of the Comments were closed, the ones left that survived the freeze had to listen the the preaching of The Andrew without any chance of debate - drove 'em mad. Occasionally one of them would send protestations to The Andrew via the E.Mail - they were either ignored or worse, He would choose a couple of words from the E.Mail - such as 'bottom' and 'goats' - and publish it in the name of the protester. That shut'em up pretty quick"

    "I'd imagine - so what are we going do with this now then ?"

    "Buggered if I know - there's no real point in telling anybody we've found Andrew Orlowskis Comment Section - they'd never believe us..."


    1. Anonymous Coward

      So lets get started.

      What is the impact of plastic circuit on the environment and climate?

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        first major impact

        2055: pacific gyre, filled with conducting plastic, becomes world's largest electrical generator.

    2. Tim Parker



      "fabled people who did Believe"

      should be

      "fabled people who didn't Believe"

      (that'll change the voting :)

      1. '); DROP TABLE comments; --

        Re: Correction

        Actually I think your high vote count is not so much to do with you being perceived to hold pro- or anti- views on climate change, but more to do with your adroit and comical depiction of a true rarity - a comment-enabled Andrew Orlowski article!

        You have my upvote for that at least, regardless of your views on climate change.

        For those archaeologists looking for a really rare and epic find, try locating a comment-enabled Andrew Orlowski article about *copyright*!

  4. Owen Carter

    Detecting bird strikes

    "Boeing's 747-8 has a printed bird strike detector, for example."

    Ok; so I know the reality is more technical and serious, but I have a vision of a bunch of engineers standing round a piece of mangled plastic covered in feathers and gore saying 'yep, it was a bird all right'.

    1. Michael Dunn

      Printed Bird Strike Detector

      So on an average flight, how many printed birds _do_ strike a 747?

      1. serviceWithASmile

        shouldn't that be

        how many *birds* does a *747* strike?

        1. F111F

          Based on Point of View

          If the bird survived the impact, it would be called a 747 strike in the bird's medical forms. But since we're talking about damage to the aircraft, and the likelihood of a bird surviving said impact is low (though not zero) it's a birdstrike.

    2. F111F


      It's the maintainers who do the standing around debating who is junior so they then have to scrape up bits/pieces for identification (of species) for birdstrike avoidance planning. That could be flying at different altitudes, routes, etc based on migrations, local bird attractors (golf courses, ponds, etc).

  5. Tom Maddox Silver badge


    The picture in the article implies that this technology is already being used in Apple products.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Was'nt this what Plastic Logic was *supposed* to do?

    One of those technologies that has been full of promise for a *long* time.

    1. John Sanders

      Yep, exactly... a wonder material.

      Like carbon nanotubes... oh wait...

  7. JDX Gold badge

    Clever stuff but...

    ... shouldn't we be looking to reduce our dependence on oil rather than make more and more stuff out of plastics?

    Current-bearing wood, now there's an idea. Trees that produce pentium-nuts, etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They did also mention 'organic material'

      And you can make plastics out of sunflower oil and the like, but they tend to bio-degrade easily, which is what you want in plastic bags, less so in electronics.

      "That's the problem with those Sony's, 5 years and the circuit turns to dust"

      That said, i've seen electronics from the 70's where the coating on the PCB's has suddenly decided to go conductive.

  8. Fearchild

    What is...

    A "printed bird strike detector"? Would it detect a plain bird if it were about to strike?

  9. Jonathan McColl
    Thumb Up


    Thankyouthankyouthankyou for not using the word 'Boffins'.

  10. nyelvmark

    Boeing's 747-8 has a printed bird strike detector, for example.

    I was going to comment on this, but then I read the previous comments and realised that I would be be merely gilding the lily, so to speak. Actually, I think I want the opposite - blackening that which is already black, but no such idiom comes to mind. Suggestions?

    1. Trevor 3


      Originally "guilding the lily" is a deliberate misquote from Shakespeare I first encountered in the Skylark series by E.E Doc Smith.

      the quote from Shakespeare is something like "Painting the lily, or guilding fine gold, any other name is just as sweet" or something like that anyway.

      Anyone do an English major in here?

      1. Michael Dunn

        Gilding the Lily?

        You are right - it's from Wolsey's advice to Thomas Cromwell from the unfinished Henry VIII in the speech which starts: "I charge thee, Cromwell, fling away ambition, for by that sin the angels fell." and the actual words were "They paint the lily, they gold refined gold"

        Not actually an English major - I only studied Eng Lit up to School Cert level in the 1940's, but schools turned out literate people in those days.

  11. Lghost

    "they'd never believe us"

    screencap ;-]

  12. tuna 1

    Interesting. ...But Not Promising

    Given the useful life of plastics. Interesting that they can dial in a pre-set conductivity, but how long does the conductivity last? Does it degrade faster or slower than the the plastic itself?

    And yeah, what JDX said. Less petro products, please.

  13. Telecide


    Totally recyclable I hope. And not a product of oil either. Otherwise we're going backwards.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      No ...

      ... *not* using plastics is going backwards - into the past.

      Not content with trying to deny us reliable, large-scale powers supplies, and reliable, large-scale transport options, eco-nuts are now trying to take away plastics. FFS, why don't you all pack up and move to Borneo or somewhere, where you can show us how your wonderful world-view works in practice? I promise that if you can show the same lifestyle as I have now, but only using the renewable products of mother nature, then I'll join you.

  14. Hungry Sean

    are these plastics flexible?

    Curious if this research has any bearing on wearable electronics/e-textiles. It's always seemed like a bit of a solution looking for a problem, but I bet there could probably be some cool applications of extremely flexible electronics, e.g. a spandex-like fabric with a vast number of piezo sensors, accelerometers, gyros, moisture sensors, etc. could make a great suit for measuring everything about top athletes during training.

  15. Richard 12 Silver badge

    I was under the impression

    that 'bird-strike' detectors worked by breaking when hit.

    So you want something that's really fragile, so it'll definitely break well before the stuff it's supposed to protect.

    - You want to be sure of no false negatives, so you accept a relatively higher rate of false positives.

  16. Simon B
    Thumb Up


    Glad to see I'm not the only one wondering if it's environmentally better than what we currrently use, even if someone else doesn;t appear to agree :)

  17. GrahamT

    Electrochemical series

    If the plastics can have different conductivity, that will make resistors cheaper as the resistance will be in the bulk rather than a surface coat of thin film carbon.

    Secondly, will different plastics be in different postions in the electrochemical series? If so you could make lightweight flexible batteries using an external electrolyte (any acidic or alkaline liquid or gel) without having heavy metals leaching out. I'm thinking the self powered vibrating dildo here.

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