Light for a brighter morrow : paving the way for sustainable light-emitting devices

Abstract: We live in an artificially lit world, where light enhances our productivity and improves our quality of life. Today our appetite for light is stronger than ever, and emerging light-emitting technologies do not just replace the classical incandescent light bulb, they also open up for a new world of applications. The problem is that our environment does not cope with the increased energy demand during fabrication and usage, and the insufficient recycling that currently follows this rapid technological development. We must therefore adapt, and from here on out consider the entire environmental footprint and the necessity of our devices. Organic electronics has the potential to become sustainable. It allows for cheap and energy-efficient fabrication methods, using abundant materials, mainly carbon. Such sophisticated conductive plastics can be made thin and flexible, and they are thereby very versatile. It is in this context that we find the light-emitting electrochemical cell (LEC)—a strong contender for affordable and sustainable light. The LEC has a simple device design that is fit for solution based fabrication and new useful applications in, for example, medicine. The simple LEC design is enabled by its operational mechanism, where mobile ions aid electronic charge injection and improves electric conductivity by electrochemical doping. However, this dynamic nature complicates the attainment of devices that are efficient, bright, and retain a long lifetime. Herein, we face these challenges with sustainability as the beacon. We find that careful design of the active material, and selection of its constituents, can lead to LECs that are both efficient and bright. Importantly we show that this is attainable with entirely organic active materials, via thermally activated delayed fluorescence; thereby moving away from unsustainable phosphorescent emitters that contain problematic rare metals. With large-scale manufacturing in mind, we introduce a tool that identifies environmentally benign and functional solvents. Furthermore we design and validate a realistic optical model that unveils the common optical loss mechanisms in LECs. The insights gained guide the optical design of highly efficient LECs in the transition towards an upscaled production.I hope that the progress made will contribute to a road map for the design of sustainable light-emitting devices. It is then our responsibility, as a society, to make use of them where needed.