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September 07. 2012 1:00AM

UNH teams with Hudson firm for $450,000 grant

HUDSON — University of New Hampshire researchers and Conductive Compounds, a Hudson-based nanotech firm, have received $450,000 from the National Science Foundation.

The team is developing a conductive ink based on silver nanoparticles for use in solar panels, especially in aerospace, automotive, military and medical applications.

The company aims to find a cost-effective way to use solar panels, says Don Banfield, president and co-founder.

“If we’re successful with this over the next three years, it would mean substantial growth for us — talk about a game-changing technology,” he said.

Conductive Compounds develops circuitry screen-printing for the electronics assembly industry, using materials such as carbon and silver, for use in everything from touch-screens to defibrillator pads and EKG electrodes.

Silver inks differ from graphic inks in that they contain particles of silver flake, typically smaller than 20 microns and sometimes as small as less than one micron, according to the company’s website. Compared to pigments used in graphic inks, the silver flake is very dense.

Through a grant from the New Hampshire Innovation Research Center, Conductive Compounds teamed up two years ago with UNH professor Dale Barkey and assistant professor Xiaowei Teng, both specialists in chemical engineering.

Seeing the potential for the widespread use of the silver nanoparticles, the team applied for the NSF grant last October and was successful on the first try.

Barkey explained how the conductive screen-prints are utilized in most modern appliances.

“You have a flexible plastic sheet, you print the circuit on it, then you can roll it up or package it easily,” he said.

Most electricity-producing solar panels use photovoltaic technology, which consists of silver elements that conduct electricity from top to bottom.

“Sunlight strikes the voltaic panel and produces electricity,” Barkey said. “To collect this electricity you need conductive circuits to transport the electricity away. And those circuits can be screen-printed onto the solar voltaic panel. This is a very economical way to prod the electrical circuit.”

With the use of these nanoparticles — about 100 atoms in diameter — less silver can be used, and the conductive lines can be more fine.

“You don’t want the lines to cover the (solar panel), you want them to occupy as little space as possible, because the sun has to get to the solar voltaic to produce electricity,” Barkey said.

The size of the nanoparticles also lends them to being melted at a far lower temperature. Where silver melts at 960 degrees Celsius, the nanoparticles melt at approximately 500 degrees less.

“High temperatures cause damage, heating things up costs money, so the lower processing temperature that you can use, the better,” Barkey said.

The $450,000 Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry money will go the university, funding the tuition and stipend of one Ph.D. candidate and the wages of several undergraduate students.

The research will be twofold. First, the particles will be fabricated; then the students will experiment with different ink formulas.

“It’s going to be all the way from the manufacturing of particles to formulation and testing of the ink,” Barkey said.

Conductive Compounds was founded in a garage in 1994, and has since grown to 14 employees.

Don Banfield said one of the best years took place at the start of the Great Recession, attributing it to taking business from transnational firms such as DuPont and Henkel.

Dealing with firms in Asia, Europe and North America, the company counts Boeing, Maytag and Whirlpool among the companies who use its inks.

The research and manufacturing are conducted at the company’s Hudson facility. Since its silver is sourced from American producers, the company’s founders are proud to stay domestic.

“Keep the jobs local and in the U.S. also,” Banfield said.

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.



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