A maker of inherently conductive polymers expects commercial applications to hit the market in early 2005.
Plextronics Inc. has been working on a class of polymers - sulfur-containing polythiophene - for plastics, coatings and electronics applications since July 2002. The Pittsburgh firm is a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University and is leveraging 10 years of research carried out by Richard D. McCullough, dean and co-founder of the school's Mellon College of Science.
Inherently conductive polymers transmit electricity without the addition of carbon black, metal fibers or other conductive materials.
Plextronics spokeswoman Jennifer Alexander Honig said coatings maker Sherwin Williams Co., one of its research partners, is looking at the polymers for static dissipation uses. Plextronics also is looking at similar applications in packaging for blends of polythiophene with polystyrene and other resins, added Plextronics' chief technical officer, Richard Pilston.
Some types of polythiophenes show thermoplastic properties, but conventional plastics processing - such as injection molding and thermoforming - are likely to rely on blends of polythiophenes with traditional plastics, or on copolymers. Besides electrostatic dissipation, other uses could include corrosion resistance, flat-panel displays, miniature electronics and light-emitting diodes.
Pilston said in a telephone interview that his company is selling pound quantities to firms for research and development. Plextronics is running a pilot plant to make modest quantities of the new polymers, but the polymerization process could be scaled up readily as commercial markets develop.
Plextronics recently completed $3.4 million in new financing for the 13-employee company. Investors include Smithfield Trust Co. of Pittsburgh, state-sponsored technology agency Innovation Works and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Early work on conductive polymers included studies of polyacetylene, but the material was put aside as a curiosity because it breaks down in the presence of oxygen, light and moisture. Polythiophenes are stable, Pilston said.