Printable electronics: ASX listed Strategic Elements develops nanocube memory technology into printable ink

By @s_rituparna on
Man holding a laptop
An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Files

ASX listed company Strategic Elements has announced that it has moved a step forward with its nanocube memory technology, successfully developing it into printable ink. This revolutionary memory technology, developed under licence from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), could significantly boost the printed electronics market.

Nanocube technology comprises of tiny cube-shaped memory cells with the potential to enable enormous amounts of data to be stored on smaller, faster memory devices or chips. This means that as the technology advances, the problem of running out of memory on our phones, laptops, data centres and even on wearable devices will soon become a thing of the past - especially considering the large volumes of data we use daily.

At present, Flash is the effective memory technology found in everything from smartphones, and computers to data centres and USB thumb drives. However, Flash memory technology is at crossroads. It cannot be economically scaled any further without sacrificing reliability and working life.

The alternative nanocube memory technology being developed by UNSW is based on Resistive Random Access Memory (RRAM), using tiny nanocubes made from cerium oxides (rare earth). This will potentially enable new products that are smaller, faster and cheaper with more storage capacity to be developed.

“There has been an explosion in the amount of data being stored and accessed on smaller and smaller devices,” said Charles Murphy, Managing Director for Strategic Elements .

Accepting the fact that the current Flash technology cannot keep it up, he further commented that the nanocube technology is “absolutely cutting edge and has the potential to revolutionise how data is stored and used”. He also clarified that nanocube memory technology is being developed to enable more data to be used faster in much smaller spaces, which is also cost effective.

The Nanocubes developed by UNSW are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, and theoretically, two trillion nanocubes could fit in an area as small as a postal stamp. This means that if one nanocube holds one byte of data, then a single chip would be equal two terabytes of data which is equivalent to 500 hours of High Definition Video. Repeated testing over 200,000 times proved exceptional reliability of storing and retrieving data from the nanocube memory cells, says a report published by Australian Advanced Materials (AAM).

This process works by applying jerks of voltage to the nanocube memory cells causing them to change their state between resistive and conductive to create and store digital zeroes and ones (data). Additionally, the nanocubes have the potential to be piled up in layers, thus, increasing the amount of potential data storage with each additional layer. This makes it highly cost-effective and also enables the memory technology to fit into the structure of the global device manufacturers.

Strategic Elements’ breakthrough in printable memory

Printed electronics are not a new development, although the memory performance associated with these technologies have been poor so far. Backing UNSW’s nanocube technology in a unique capital gains tax-free ASX listed structure, Strategic Elements’ focus on optimising the nanocube ink to print memory cells using an inkjet printer onto silicon, glass and flexible plastic materials, is expected to improve the performance of printable memory, which could lead to aa breakthrough in printable electronics and assist in transforming the industry.

Strategic Elements had succeeded in developing the first batch of suspension solutions (nanocubes) into printable ink. The ink was then successfully jetted from a Fujifilm inkjet printer onto both silicon and glass substrates.

The nanocube technology has the ability to be incorporated into a solution, which can potentially form printed flexible and transparent memory cells with high performance and low power consumption.

The ink, although visible with the cartridge, appears to be transparent when printed onto glass. This points to  a future potential application of the nanocube memory ink directly onto screens, displays and/or windows. Strategic Elements has already raised $1.24 million through its oversubscribed share purchase plan to fund the project of nanocube memory technology.

The company has also identified a few key technology companies to take the nanocube technology to the next level, and intends to approach organisations to incorporate the nanocube technology into their devices, once the testing is complete. Strategic Elements also aims to consider development options to engage the technical team from the University of New South Wales.

“Printed electronics to date have not found a solution for high performance printable memory. The 12-week program commenced at UNSW will show the world how cutting edge the nanocube technology is. The coming period will be quite a ride for the Company and its shareholders,” said Murphy .

Potential Market

Aimed at the USD $78 billion global memory market, the potential for nanocube technology is great, with the market for printed and potentially printed electronics expected to increase to $63.28 billion by 2022, forecasts leading research firm IDTechEx .

This emerging non-volatile memory market is supposed to grow at a rate of 118 percent per year, starting in 2015-16 with the enterprise storage, smart card and wearable markets. Enterprise storage is forecast to be the largest market until 2020 due to fast adoption of RRAM.

Wearable devices are going to be the second largest market because of the strong demand for low-power memory. It is a non-volatile memory based on carbon nanotubes which has significantly lower power requirements than current technology. It uses the nanotubes to read and write data to small islands of phase-change materials, which store information. The new technology could extend battery life in mobile devices and also make desktop computers more efficient.

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Strategic Elements is registered under the Pooled Development Program run by the Australian Federal Government to encourage investment into SMEs. The shares of the company are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) as a “diversified financials” company. It operates under a program designed to increase investment into Australian companies by providing government legislated tax incentives to Pooled Development Fund shareholders.

Exclusive Global Licence

Strategic Elements also announced that it has acquired an exclusive royalty-free global licence for developing the memory technology developed at UNSW targeting a large global market. The development work will be carried out by Australian Advanced Materials (AAM) which is entirely owned by the company. AAM was initially established to commercialise rare earth based technology developed by Australian research groups.

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