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Innovation: Flexible Circuit Boards

Vorbeck Materials’s new graphene-based ink can be used to print circuit boards that can be twisted, creased, or peeled off like a sticker.
"Instead of constructing a circuit board, you can just print it out," says John Lettow, president of Vorbeck Materials.

Flex time

For the past few years, researchers have been trying to develop marketable uses of graphene, a tiny layer of carbon within graphite that conducts electricity extremely well. Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, Maryland, recently became one of the first companies to do so with Vor-ink, a graphene ink that can be used to print circuit boards for electronics, such as store security tags and cell-phone keypads. Graphene ink is less expensive than the silver ink used to make most printed circuit boards. It is also more flexible: The ink can be printed on a variety of materials, including paper and polymer films, and the resulting circuit board can be twisted, creased, or peeled off like a sticker. Vorbeck recently began selling the ink to retailers and manufacturers, which are using it to make security tags for clothing and other products.

Peel and stick
The circuit board shown here, which measures 1.1 inches by 3.6 inches, was printed on standard adhesive-backed label stock. It can be peeled off and used as an antenna in radio-frequency identification security tags.

Seal of approval
In 2009, Vorbeck Materials became the first company to receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to sell a graphene-based product.

Vor-ink can be used in existing industrial printing presses and could one day be used in home or office printers.

IMAGE: Plamen Petkov
Last updated: Nov 1, 2010

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.

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