Green Semiconductors: Conjugated Polymers from Plants?

Semiconducting polymers are a promising class of high-tech materials for the next generation of optoelectronic products such as solar cells, LEDs and displays. While their functional properties, such as their luminescence and conductivity, are akin to inorganic (metallic) semiconductors, they have the enormous advantage of being flexible, stretchable and processable from solution.

At current, the basic building blocks (monomers) required to make conjugated polymers are harvested from petroleum oil. While this has shown great promise, it is not a sustainable road for the future.

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In this exploratory project you will take the first steps towards exploring a green and sustainable source for conjugated polymers. You will create semiconducting polymers from monomers to be extract from ordinary plants; e.g. curcumin found in tumeric root and antocyanin from pomegranate fruit. After functionalizing these biobased building blocks you will use classical carbon-carbon coupling approaches (e.g. Suzuki or Yamamoto couplings) to create a new generation of green semiconducting polymers. We will characterize these polymers (e.g. using luminescence spectroscopy), and when successful will collaborate with other labs in the world to turn them into the first plant-based LEDs or solar cells.