Up-and-Coming Materials–Hybrids, Nanosilver and Silver Substitutes
Inexpensive alternatives: Hybrid inks and pastes—combining silver and carbon or silver and copper, for instance—can offer modest savings when a high level of performance is not critical. In the paste sector materials of this kind have been available for decades.
This kind of material generally disappears from the market as soon as silver prices start to come down. But, as we explained earlier, this is precisely what seems unlikely to happen in the near term. As a result, as we also mentioned earlier, it seems likely that there may be more of an opportunity for these inexpensive alternatives than in the past.
Printed nanosilver: A more strategic alternative to conventional silver inks and pastes is nanosilver. As we have mentioned, this may have a future in printed electronics, but this has yet to be proven and nanosilver ink makers have had a hard time of it as they have chased after new markets that don’t really exist yet.
Printed nanosilver makers claim other advantages over more conventional materials, too. These include lower temperature processing and less usage/wastage of precious silver. These advantages would seem highly compelling. But nanosilver-based inks and pastes have been around for nearly a decade now, and they have yet to take off in the market. What is behind the lack of progress?
• That nanosilver can accomplish what conventional silver can but at much lower loading, thereby reducing costs substantially—has come into serious question. Savings from using less silver are still largely eaten up by the higher cost of the nanosilver itself, let alone the changes in design and equipment that are needed to use it. This remains at least partially true despite the recent spike in silver prices that should have led to a bigger narrowing of the cost-in-use gap between conventional silver and nanosilver.
• Economic uncertainty leads to risk aversion and causes device manufacturers to stick with the conventional silver materials with which they are already comfortable.
• The outlook for printed nanosilver is complicated by a murky regulatory environment for silver specifically and nanomaterials.