Most of the well-known objectives of printed electronics remain elusive because they are glamorous, Olympian dreams based on some very exciting demonstrations in laboratories. For example, we plan stretchable, invisible solar cells to go over the whole of a car or building and tightly rollable colour screens and keyboards that unfurl from inside a tiny mobile telephone. That does not mean that there is no progress with printed electronics but most of it is of the nature of, "In a gold rush, get there first and sell shovels."
Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx and co-author of the annual, Printed, Organic & Flexible Electronics Forecasts, Players & Opportunities 2011-2021 says, "The giant East Asian electronics companies often remind us that there are huge gains being made with printed electronics but most are out of sight of the public. They cite one printed layer replacing several non-printed layers in LCD flat screen television screens, greatly reducing the cost. This is a more sophisticated application of the principle used to print membrane keyboards and battery electrodes."
Indeed, the public will not know or care that third generation lithium-ion batteries are printed and solid state but they will be aware of the doubling of the all-electric range of their electric car that results. This will let them use more electricity by plugging in at night: it is one fifth the cost of gasoline per mile. Add to that the plan of T-Ink Inc to replace heavy, expensive printed wiring in road vehicles with printed wiring.
There are now a huge number of enhancements to existing products in the marketplace thanks to printed electronics and they do more than enhance the profits and market share of companies. To the satisfaction of their investors, some of the leaders are being bought by ambitious chemical and electronics companies.
For example, chemicals and materials giant DuPont announced recently that it has acquired Innovalight, Inc., a company specializing in advanced nano-silicon inks and process technologies that increase the efficiency of crystalline silicon solar cells. Basically, the extra layer improves efficiency by a precious few percent.
The acquisition further strengthens DuPont's position as a clear leader in materials for the solar energy market, enabling a broader and more integrated photovoltaic materials and technology offering from DuPont. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. DuPont exceeded $1 billion in revenue from sales into the conventional photovoltaic market in 2010, and it has set a goal to reach $2 billion by 2014 based on continued growth supported by new innovations that improve solar module efficiency, lifetime and overall system costs. In other words, there is much for it to contribute long before we have ubiquitous flexible photovoltaics.
"Innovalight has very exciting technology that improves cell efficiency and DuPont can help expedite its adoption," said David B. Miller, president - DuPont Electronics & Communications. "DuPont and Innovalight share a commitment to innovation in materials that have a common purpose - to make solar energy more efficient and more affordable."
The press release told us that Innovalight, located in Sunnyvale, California, has developed innovative proprietary silicon ink products, process technology and a pipeline of anticipated products. Silicon inks used in conjunction with DuPontT Solamet® photovoltaic metallization pastes boost the amount of electricity produced from sunlight, enabling the production of superior Selective Emitter solar cells. The press release said that, according to industry estimates, Selective Emitter technology could represent 13 percent of crystalline silicon solar cell production by 2013 and up to 38 percent by 2020.
"Innovalight brings in-depth knowledge of solar devices, silicon technology and Selective Emitter technology, and DuPont adds expertise in materials science, manufacturing capabilities and global market access," said Conrad Burke, founder - Innovalight. "Our offerings are complementary to one another, and together we will broaden and accelerate our ability to meet customer needs and address today's energy challenges with our continued innovations."
DuPont anticipates that the acquisition will enable opportunities for greater efficiencies and future innovations which could more quickly and effectively help address the market demand for higher-efficiency solar cell designs. DuPont experience in production scale-up and manufacturing operations will accelerate time-to-market for Innovalight products and broaden customers' access to the technology.
In addition, DuPont's broad range of offerings in photovoltaic module materials, including backsheet films and encapsulants, will help accelerate adoption of new high efficiency solar cells that need to be packaged into modules to meet in-field performance requirements.
Innovalight is one of a large number of exciting new companies transforming the electronics scene by updating old products with printed electronics. Kovio in Milpitas is printing the logic in the electronic tickets of the Los Angeles Metro, replacing the silicon chip, saving cost. Forget what people told you about printed electronics not threatening the silicon chip.
The world's largest event on printed electronics, Printed Electronics USA is in Silicon Valley for good reason. It is in Santa Clara November 30 to December 1 this year and will be covering the entire value chain - see www.IDTechEx.com/peUSA.
This event will see presentations from organisations enhancing existing products with printed electronics, including OTB group ink jet printing in solar cell mass production, Solexant optimising solar cell production and Boeing Spectrolab further enhancing the efficiency of its record breaking photovoltaics on space craft and bringing that technology to earthbound use. Indeed, parent company Boeing is giving a separate presentation of, "Applications, Needs and Requirements of Printed Electronics in Aerospace" because organisers IDTechEx pride themselves on having exceptional numbers of end users present.
Then there are visible improvements to existing products following the billions of battery testers printed onto Duracell batteries by Avery Dennison and all those OLED displays on phones and cameras. Here we have the animation of the Cluedo board game by T-Ink and the group of companies that animated a magazine cover recently using NTera printed colour displays and entirely printed battery and logic. In this spirit, Printed Electronics USA will see Oxylane describe the integration of electronic functionality into sports apparel for instance and Amy Winters on printed electronics in clothing. It even extends to security printing with De La Rue, both developer and potential user, describing "Power into Paper - A New Paradigm" because, yes, printed electronics on paper is a significant part of the subject nowadays, where spear Stora Enso of Sweden also has something to say.
Then there is "Bio-integrated Soft Electronics" to be described by the University of Illinois and the conformal ViviTouch stickers that are a new dimension to actuators created by Artificial Muscle, the electroactive polymer device creator recently snapped up by the giant Bayer of Germany. Yes, there is a pattern to this new patterning industry.
For more attend: Printed Electronics USA 2011.
The IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe event will be held in Berlin on 3-4 April 2012. See http://www.IDTechEx.com/peEUROPE for details.