The material could be incorporated into many components of future technologies including mobile phones and computers, thanks to its versatility and recent advances in nanotechnology, the team said.
Associate Professor Enrico Della Gaspera and Dr Joel van Embden from RMIT University in Australia led a team to review production strategies, capabilities and potential applications of zinc oxide nanocrystals in the journal Chemical Reviews.
Professor Silvia Gross from the University of Padova in Italy and Associate Professor Kevin Kittilstved from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the United States are co-authors.
“Tiny and versatile particles of zinc oxide can now be prepared with exceptional control of their size, shape and chemical composition at the nanoscale,” Dr van Embden said in a statement. “This all leads to precise control of the resulting properties for countless applications in optics, electronics, energy, sensing technologies and even microbial decontamination.”
The zinc oxide nanocrystals can be formulated into ink and deposited as an ultra-thin coating.
“These coatings can be made highly transparent to visible light, yet also highly electrically conductive – two fundamental characteristics needed for making touchscreen displays,” said Della Gaspera.
According to RMIT, the nanocrystals can also be deposited at low temperature, allowing coatings on flexible substrates, such as plastic, that are resilient to flexing and bending.
The team said it is ready to work with industry to explore potential applications using their techniques to make these nanomaterial coatings.
Scaling up the team’s approach from the lab to an industrial setting would require working with the right partners, said Della Gaspera.
“Scalability is a challenge for all types of nanomaterials, zinc oxide included,” he said. “Being able to recreate the same conditions that we achieve in the laboratory, but with much larger reactions, requires both adapting the type of chemistry used and engineering innovations in the reaction setup.”
The team also needs to address the shortfall in electrical conductivity that nanocrystal coatings have compared to industrial benchmarks, which rely on more complex physical depositions. The intrinsic structure of the nanocrystal coatings, which enables more flexibility, limits the ability of the coating to conduct electricity efficiently.
“We and other scientists around the world are working towards addressing these challenges and good progress is being made,” said Della Gaspera.