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Here’s something you didn’t know was possible: Building functional electronics using an inkjet printer. Ok, so maybe you can’t print yourself a new iPhone just yet — you can’t use just any inkjet printer — but it’s not as obscure as you might think. There’s a whole trade show dedicated to it called Printable Electronics — the Electronics Device Printing Technology Show being held in Tokyo in January 2014.

And the magic ingredient that makes this all possible? Silver ink. Thanks to silver’s high conductivity, it’s an ideal substance for printing millions of tiny wire traces, some as small as three micrometres wide. That’s not quite as small as the traces in your computer processor, which are measured in nanometres, but it’s still too small to be seen with a naked eye.

Best of all? It’s not just electronics it can produce. As far back as 2008, scientists were able to create prototype zinc-silver batteries using the machine.

Coming soon to a printer near you.

Zinc-silver batteries are already known to last longer than just about any other battery technology, and making them inkjet-printable raises the possibility of printing electronics that don’t require separate batteries.

So let’s take a tally. Electronics? Silver ink. Batteries? Silver-Zinc. That’s a whole lot of technology that relies on silver.

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