Metal Nanoparticle Conductive inks Patented by Aculon Inc

Aculon Inc. were granted a patent on 15 October for “Electroconductive Inks made with Metallic Nanoparticles”.  Aculon are well known for their surface coatings using nanoparticle technology, featuring improved adhesion to a wide range of surfaces and adding functionality for numerous applications including printed electronics.  It is therefore no surprise that conductive inks are described with advantageous adhesion to a variety of substrates including silicon, glass and plastic.

The granted patent is US8558117 and the claims are quite broad but require the inks to have an omega substituted organophosphoric acid, this is the added ingredient which helps to improve the adhesion.

The first 10 claims are shown below:

What is claimed is: 1. An electroconductive ink comprising: (a) a dispersion of metal nanoparticles with a dispersant on the surface of the metal nanoparticles and as a separate component, (b) an omega substituted organophosphorus acid; the metal nanoparticles being present in amounts of 5 to 80 percent by weight and the omega substituted organophosphorus acid being present in amounts of 0.0005 to 5 percent by weight; the percentages by weight being based on total weight of the electroconductive ink.

2. The composition of claim 1 in which the metal is selected from copper, silver, palladium, gold or any combination thereof.

3. The composition of claim 2 in which the metal is silver.

4. The composition of claim 3 in which the dispersant is an organic carboxylic acid.

5. The composition of claim 4 in which the organocarboxylic acid contains from 4 to 36 carbon atoms.

6. The composition of claim 1 in which the metal nanoparticles have a particle size of 1 to 500 nanometers.

7. The composition of claim 1 in which the dispersion contains an organic diluent.

8. The composition of claim 7 in which the organic diluent is selected from hydrocarbons, alcohols, esters and ketones.

9. The composition of claim 1 in which the organo groups of the organophosphorus acid have omega substituted functional groups.

10. The composition of claim 1 in which the omega substituted functional groups are selected from phosphonic acid, carboxylic acid, hydroxyl, thiol and amine including various combinations thereof.

Phil’s Comments:

I have reported on a number of conductive ink patents over the past year or two and a common theme running through them is the need for good adhesion along with their conductivity.  The patents generally differ in the description of the adhesion promoting substances used in the nanoparticle inks and on other improved properties that enhance their application for printed electronics.  Successful conductive ink formulations are essential for printed electronics to become a mainstream technology for building new devices and specialist inks with patented formulations will continue to dominate the scene for a number of years before generic formulations will be cheaply available as we see for conventional inkjet printing.


Spray on Solar PV

New Energy Technologies Inc. have been promoting a new spray-on, see through solar PV coating which can be applied to glass windows.  Earlier this year they were indicating that around 20 new patent filings have been submitted for their proprietary SolarWindow™ technology.  Last year I reported on one of the early patent filings and the article can be viewed here.  Dr Xiaomei Jiang has been leading this effort with New Energy Technologies under a Sponsored Research Agreement at the University of South Florida (USF).

Two more patent applications have emerged this month from Dr Jiang at USF and they continue to reveal further details of the spray on techniques and solar PV architecture.


Publication date: 03/10/2013



The fabrication and characterization of large scale inverted organic solar array fabricated using all-spray process is disclosed, consisting of four layers; ITO-Cs2CO3-(P3HT:PCBM)-modified PEDPT:PSS, on a substrate. With PEDPT:PSS as the anode, the encapsulated solar array shows more than 30% transmission in the visible to near IR range. Optimization by thermal annealing was performed based on single-cell or multiple-cell arrays. Solar illumination has been demonstrated to improve solar array efficiency up to 250% with device efficiency of 1.80% under AM1.5 irradiance. The performance enhancement under illumination occurs only with sprayed devices, indicating device enhancement under sunlight, which is beneficial for solar energy applications. The semi-transparent property of the solar module allows for applications on windows and windshields, indoor applications, and soft fabric substances such as tents, military back-packs or combat uniforms, providing a highly portable renewable power supply for deployed military forces.


Publication date: 10/10/2013



An inverted organic solar photovoltaic cell is described that may be fabricated onto rigid or flexible substrates using spray-on technology to apply the various layers of the cell. Indium tin oxide with a thin layer of cesium carbonate functions as the cathode for the novel inverted cells. An active layer of poly-3(hexylthiophene) and [6,6]-phenyl C61-butyric acid methylester having a thickness around 200 nm to 600 nm facilitates a high level of light transmittal through the cell. A modified PEDOT:PSS, made by doping a conductive polymer with dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), functions as the anode. A method of forming the inverted organic solar photovoltaic cell is also described using gas-propelled spraying to achieve thin layers. After the layers are formed, the cell is sealed using a vacuum and temperature-based annealing and encapsulation with UV-cure epoxy.

Phil’s Comments:

These applications are going through the patent office examination process so it is difficult to comment on the claims until we know what will actually be allowed.  The claims do make reference to spraying and the second application indicates that nitrogen is used as a propellant.

The device is an inverted solar cell design and may be fabricated onto both rigid and flexible substrates. Exemplary substrates include cloth, glass, and plastic. For example, the substrate may be a low alkaline earth boro-aluminosilicate glass.

Two figures from the second application are shown below:

FIG. 1 is a diagram that depicts the modified PEDOT:PSS as it is sprayed onto the substrate through a stainless steel shadow mask with an airbrush. Nitrogen is used as the carrier gas at a pressure of 20 psi.

FIG. 13 is a diagram showing the cross sectional view of the device architecture of an inverted solar array showing series connection

Figure 1 Capture2

Printed Electronics via Electrophotography

There are many different technologies used for printing electronic circuits such as screen printing, flexography, gravure, offset lithography and inkjet – a review of these can be found on the Wikipedia page for Printed Electronics.  One of the printing technologies which is not currently used is electrophotography although there have been various publications including patent applications that have proposed this route.

A recent patent alert I received indicated that Eastman Kodak has just been granted a method patent for producing a printed circuit using electrophotography.  The company is just emerging from chapter 11 bankruptcy and one of its stated aims is that it will focus on commercial printing.  This patent therefore fits well with its new strategy.  Although the patent title indicates a printed circuit board the description makes it clear that flexible devices are envisaged such as RFID, sensors and flexible displays.

The patent is US8497057 and was published on 30 July 2013.

Title: Method of Producing Electronic Circuit Boards using Electrophotography

Inventors: Thomas N Tombs; Donald S Rimal

Filed: 14 Sept 2012 and is a division of US 12/341099 filed on 22 Dec 2008

Abstract: The present invention provides a method producing printed electronic circuits using electrophotography.

The granted claims read as follows:

1. A method for producing a printed circuit, the method comprising performing the following steps in order:

charging a primary imaging member;
creating an electrostatic latent image by image-wise exposing the primary imaging member;
image-wise depositing thermoplastic particles onto the primary imaging member;
transferring the thermoplastic particles to an electrically insulating substrate;
a first fixing step of permanently fixing the transferred thermoplastic particles;
depositing conductive particles over the substrate;
a second fixing step of permanently fixing the conductive particles on the fixed thermoplastic particles so that conductive paths are formed between fixed conductive particles; and
removing conductive particles from portions of the substrate other than that coated with the fixed thermoplastic.

2. The method according to claim 1, wherein the conductive particles is permanently fixed by the application of heat.

3. The method according to claim 1, wherein the conductive particles is permanently fixed by the application of pressure.

4. The method according to claim 1, wherein the conductive particles is permanently fixed by the exposure to solvent vapor.

5. The method according to claim 1, wherein the conductive particles is metal.


Phil’s Comments

This method patent will shortly be complemented with the original patent which has been granted and is due to be published later this month (info obtained from the USPTO PAIR database).  I will post the details of this one when it is public.  I was interested to see if this was one of the first granted patents for electrophotography and had a quick look through the citations and examiner’s search results.  The USPTO PAIR database is a mine of information when you want to investigate the process by which a US patent is granted and see the comments made by the examiners.

Although a number of documents were found in the search none was considered relevant enough to impact the inventive step of the above claims as they are finally worded.  It should be noted that considerable changes were required to the original 2008 application.

I did a brief search for the keywords electrophotography and printed electronics in titles and abstracts came up with the following:

US7638252: Electrophotographic printing of electronic devices


US20070234918 A1:  System and method for making printed electronic circuits using electrophotography

This patent application was never granted and was abandoned.

From the references and citations it is clear that electrophotographic approaches for printed electronics have been documented well before 2008.  However, the Eastman Kodak patent has described a stepwise process which is somewhat different to the prior art and reviewing the prosecution it is clear that considerable detail has been gone over in agreeing the allowed claims over the prior art.




Copper Inks for Printed Electronics

I recently spotted a patent for copper based metallic inks jointly granted to Applied Nanotech Holdings, Inc. and Ishihara Chemical Co., Ltd.  The conductive inks I have previously reported on have been silver or graphene based, these can be very expensive and so there is always interest in a lower cost alternative.  Copper metal is a standard in the electronics industry and is about one tenth the cost of silver.

Patent summary:

US8404160   –  METALLIC INK



Filing date: 31/03/2009
Issue date: 26/03/2013

A metallic ink including a vehicle, a multiplicity of copper nanoparticles, and an alcohol. The conductive metallic ink may be deposited on a substrate by methods including inkjet printing and draw-down printing. The ink may be pre-cured and cured to form a conductor on the substrate.

Claim 1:

1. A conductive metal ink comprising: a vehicle comprising two or more oxygenated organic compounds; copper nanoparticles; and a medium length chain aliphatic alcohol, wherein the ink does not comprise a binder.

There are a further 23 claims giving more details of the components mentioned in claim 1.

Two figures from the patent give a flow chart for two processes which can be used:

Direct printing:


Patterning after the ink deposition:


Phil’s Comments

This is a key patent for copper inks and has a broad first claim which had to be modified from the original application by the addition of the restriction that the ink does not contain a binder and I suspect this was to get around some of the prior art identified by the patent examiner.

Six very detailed examples are given which illustrate the invention and provide further details of the printing process, the curing or sintering that is applied to produce the conductive tracks on a range of materials including flexible substrates.

Silver Nanoparticle Inks for Printed Electronics

Xerox are continuing to add to their patent portfolio of silver nanoparticle inks for printed electronics.  A new patent was granted on 4th Dec 2012 adding to the one already granted on 17th April 2012.  These two patents are summarised below:


Abstract: A conductive ink composition comprising organic-stabilized silver nanoparticles and a solvent, and a polyvinyl alcohol derivative resin of Formula (1) wherein R1 is a chemical bond or a divalent hydrocarbon linkage having from about 1 to about 20 carbons; R2 and R3 are independently an alkyl, an aromatic or substituted aromatic group having from about 1 to about 20 carbon atoms; x, y and z represent the proportion of the corresponding repeat units respectively expressed as a weight percent, wherein each repeat unit is randomly distributed along polymer chain, and the sum of x, y and z is about 100 weight percent, and wherein the polyvinyl alcohol derivative resin is present in an amount of from 0.1 to about 5 weight percent of the ink composition.


Abstract: High performing nanoparticle compositions suitable for printing, such as by inkjet printing, are provided herein. In particular, there is provided a conductive ink formulation comprising silver nanoparticles which has optimal performance, such as, reduced coffee ring effect, improved adhesion to substrates, and extended printhead de-cap time or latency time. The ink formulation comprises two or more solvents and a resin.

Phil’s Comments

The key technology improvements over the general prior art are for the development of inks which do not dry out and clog the printhead along with improvements in the adhesion of the ink to the substrate, reduction of the coffee ring effect and reduction of particle aggregation which leads to black dots in the printed lines.

The improved adhesion is as a result of the incorporation of a resin in the ink based on a polyvinyl alcohol derivative.  The earlier patent goes into some detail over the formulae for these resins.

The extended drying times to prevent printhead clogging are the result of incorporation of two or more ink vehicles (solvents) with vapour pressure properties as described in the second patent.  Typical compositions are based on aliphatic hydrocarbons comprising at least one cyclohexane ring, cyclic terpene, cyclic terpinene, terpineol, methyl naphthalene, and mixtures thereof.  Typical drying times are in excess of 5 hours and one claim states up to about 1 week.

The nanoparticles are stabilised with organo-amines, the first patent gives more detail on these structures,  a preferred compound is dodecylamine.


As always please leave a comment if you require further details or are interested in patent landscapes related to these conductive inks.