Starters-Nanotechnology at Your Fingertips-May 2011

Cima NanoTech plans to be in more touchscreens, flat screens, and even windows.

Cima NanoTech received $15 million in equity financing recently, and CEO Jon Brodd said in his March announcement that the money, from an undisclosed source, will enable his St. Paul nanomaterials company to “move from pilot and small-scale sales . . . to launches across numerous applications.” Now Eric Granstrom, general manager and vice president of R&D for Cima NanoTech, explains what that might mean. Where could Cima’s nanomaterials show up next—and where might you already be using them? 


More Responsive to Your Touch: Among the layers that go into a typical touchscreen is one that blocks out electrical noise from the device itself—be it iPod or ATM—so that the screen will be responsive only to your touch. That’s called electromagnetic interference shielding, and Cima NanoTech makes a coating that does it. EMI shielding is the one market where nine-year-old Cima already has sales, with Toray Industries of Japan as one customer. And even non-touchscreens need shielding, Granstrom explains: “The Federal Communications Commission won’t let you sell a plasma TV in the United States if it generates too much [electrical] noise,” and would interfere with nearby cell phones or other devices.


Keeping Electronic Conversations from Leaving the Building: Cima’s current coating works on a substrate of polyester terephthalate common in flat-screen displays, but the company will now “redo its chemistry” to adapt the coating to glass and polycarbonate. Then it could be used, for instance, on windows. “Some people are getting very concerned about security for windows in buildings, because they don’t want cell phone conversations or key strokes on a wireless keyboard to get outside the building,” Granstrom says.


Clearly Warmer: Transparent heaters, another possible use of Cima’s technology, are also a layer built into many flat-screen displays so they can work in the cold. Gas pumps have them, for instance. And consider a future with fewer gas pumps and more electric cars, Granstrom says. Without conventional engine heat to defrost windows, built-in transparent heaters become as vital for cars as they are now for aircraft.


Brighter, Cheaper Power Sources: Beyond surfaces that block noise and heat devices, “the technologically more interesting and commercially more interesting applications are that the touchscreen needs transparent electrodes,” Granstrom says. The SANTE-brand coatings that Cima NanoTech makes (the acronym stands for “self-aligning nano technology for electronics”) are transparent and conductive, filled with nanoscale silver particles that organize themselves into a network. SANTE coatings could replace the indium tin oxide that makes touchscreens function, “and if we do, the screens will be brighter and cheaper,” Granstrom says. Greater transparency and conductivity at lower production cost than other materials could also make Cima’s coatings competitive in “the application that’s going to be bigger than all the others put together,” he says, “solar photovoltaics.”