Scientists develop a new process for more environmentally friendly liquid crystals
Liquid crystals may soon be produced more efficiently and more environmentally friendly. A new process has been developed by researchers at Martin Luther Halle-Wittenberg University (MLU) in Germany, Bangalore University in India and Cairo University in Egypt. Compared to conventional methods, it is faster, more energy efficient and promises high yield as the team reports in the Journal of Molecular Liquids. Liquid crystals are used in most screens of smartphones, tablets and computers.
The production of liquid crystals is a complex process with many intermediate steps. “Often this requires various solvents and expensive catalysts,” says Dr. Mohamed Alaasar, a chemist at MLU. The team from Germany, India and Egypt was looking for a way to simplify the process and make it more environmentally friendly. The idea: Instead of chemical reactions following one another, certain steps could be combined in a so-called multicomponent reaction in which several substances react directly with each other.
The team has developed an approach to producing liquid crystals that does not require environmentally harmful solvents and relies on cheaper catalysts. “We were able to achieve a yield of around 90%. This means that most of the chemicals are used in the process and relatively little residue is produced,” says Alaasar. This saves energy and ultimately also money. At room temperature, the newly created liquid crystals are in a nematic phase – a special arrangement of molecules used in most liquid crystal or LCD displays.
So far, the researchers have only tested their new process in the lab. However, Alaasar is confident that it could also be implemented on an industrial scale. “However, manufacturers should rebuild parts of their fabrication. This has not happened in the past with other promising materials,” says the scientist. However, consumers have started to value sustainability and more environmentally friendly products in recent years. This could be an additional argument in favor of the new approach.