January 16, 2007 Futurists’ might need to reappraise their forecasts for the look of the future if the promise of a new electroactive polymer materials with remarkable properties reaches full commercialisation. Start-up Crosslink has developed a material with an array of real-world applications that could profoundly influence how our living environments, possessions and clothes look in the future as it effectively offers almost any object the ability to become a light source. SuperFlex is a lightweight, crushable, durable electroluminescent (EL) lighting technology based on polythiophene, an inherently conductive polymer known as PEDOT. SuperFlex can be formulated to emit light in both the visible and near-infrared (NIR) spectrums and can withstand being twisted, punctured, torn or scrunched-up (bottom images) without losing its ability to light up. The first commercialisation of the technology will be in the form of easily-transportable softwall shelters for the military (top image) with the lighting system semi-permanently attached to the inside of the shelter. The future prospects for SuperFlex are very bright as textiles, composites, plastics and metals all can be coated with SuperFlex, signalling a step-change approach to how we use light sources. The technology is applicable in myriad ways - from merchandising displays to packaging, walls, drapes, any part of a structure, clothes that light up at night for safety or decorative purposes ad infinitum. Then there are some compelling military applications, such as a foldable map that emits its own infrared light so it can be read in complete darkness using night vision goggles.
The light panels use an efficient power controller developed by Crosslink, which can be plugged into any normal power outlet.
The efficiencies afforded by the technology in military applications paint a strong economic argument for its introduction . Soldiers currently use typically fragile fluorescent lights which have to be transported in a special container to protect them. They are heavy, contain toxic materials, have trouble starting when temperatures are low, and have to be assembled and set up after the shelter is erected.
The EL panels are flexible, durable, and lightweight and can be collapsed with the shelter for easy erection and packing up, making it ideal for combat environments where rapid deployment and the ability to relocate quickly are important.
For the softwall military shelters, such as chemical biological protective shelters (CBPS), thin Crosslink SuperFlex panels are permanently or semi-permanently attached to the tent interior. They produce white light when powered by a standard AC source. The lighting can be collapsed and packed with the shelter, eliminating additional setup and teardown troops must currently perform with fluorescent lights, which present many hazards.
Crosslink Chief Technology Officer Patrick Kinlen, Ph.D. led the team of scientists who developed SuperFlex, which includes Eric Bruton, Ph.D., who presented at MRS, and Mauricio Pinto, Ph.D.