Based on the latest research by IDTechEx, reported in the new report Organic & Printed Electronics Forecasts, Players & Opportunities 2007-2027, the market for printed and thin film electronics will be $1.18 billion in 2007. 59.1% of this is spent on organic electronics, predominantly OLED display modules. Of the total market, 31.6% will be printed. IDTechEx forecast the market growing to $5.06 billion by 2011, and $48.18 billion in 2017.
The last year has seen a rapid change in the perception of organic electronics. What is it, why use it and what is it for? Conventionally, we have defined organic electronics as devices with the most active (non-linear) element made entirely of organic material. That means the semiconductor in a printed transistor for example. Reduced cost has been the primary objective and participants have usually sought to replace existing products such as the silicon solar cell. Indeed, most of the recent investment in organic electronics has been dedicated to nothing more imaginative than replacing existing television displays, in this case because of an incremental improvement in performance.
Fortunately, we are now realising that there are a very large number of reasons for using organic and printed materials in what remains the main objective - flexible, low cost products. And they are not just replacements for existing products. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. " We certainly have some magic coming along. In this article we start with the modest and progress to the dramatic, looking at some of the breakthroughs and disappointments along the way.
With Samsung, world leader in OLEDs, investing $450 million in its latest generation of OLED displays, there is certainly a threat to conventional LED and plasma displays, where some manufacturers are already incurring huge losses. These OLED displays are neither printed nor flexible and they are sold on superior performance such as colours and viewing angle.
In 2007, Nanoident opened the world's first printed semiconductor factory making photodetector arrays that are essentially OLEDs in reverse and some of these products are flexible unlike the more expensive conventional alternatives. Initially their life is limited but the medical and other applications that are targeted do not suffer from this as a problem. Similarly, Add-Vision, with flexible OLEDs, is tapping applications where limited life is not a problem.
However, it is a disappointment that no experts in OLED lighting, signage and displays see long life flexible versions as "just around the corner" any more. That has left the field open to ac electroluminescent displays in the form of light emitting plastic film being applied to buildings, vehicles and so on in large areas and appearing in may other locations such as office lighting and car instrumentation. As a result, about ten manufacturers of these printed inorganic products are seeing rapid increase in sales. In turn that has fostered a new interest from materials suppliers and new phosphors with better colour, lifetime and so on are being developed using both inorganic and organic routes.
Dramatic cost reduction - new markets
Using the new technologies, such as printed electrophoretic displays, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on the $100 laptop for the third world and, recently, the Vellore Institute of Technology in India has announced that it believes that the $47 laptop is possible. At those prices, they will bring products to countries where they do not exist and combat poverty.
New life for PEDOT
The "staple food" of the organic electronics business remains the PEDOT semiconductor/ conductor and it is now being used for surprising reasons. In 2006, Menippos sold 700,000 interactive football tokens that employed a 16 bit screen printed pattern PEDOT. They did not use silver ink because silver can be a biocide and children may chew these paper products. They also wanted the RFID to function even after crushing and folding. Arjo Wiggins announced interactive paper with a hidden PEDOT conductive pattern and here they chose PEDOT because its blue colour was easier to obscure than a metal pattern. Nevertheless, the electrodes, antennas and interconnects in most so-called organic electronic and electrical products remain metallic because the organic industry still fails to match the cost/ conductivity figures of printed inks, particularly silver.
It is becoming urgent to replace certain inorganic materials
There is now one deep concern that impacts both organic and inorganic thin film and printed electronics and it is the increasingly widespread use of indium tin oxide. Over the last few years, the price of indium leapt from around $60 per kilogram to around $1000 per kilogram and, although there was some respite in 2006, shortages and severe price hikes are in prospect in the future. For transparent electrodes in OLEDs, ac electroluminescent displays and many other applications we need printable alternatives. These transparent conductive inks must be suitable for low cost flexible substrates sold in huge quantities. Improvements to PEDOT have something to offer, a European Community research program is improving printable antimony tin oxide for low temperature curing and Unidym offers a new transparent carbon. However, none are, as yet widely adopted because of perceived shortcomings.
We need better alternatives to printed silver if only because of the current cost and potential shortages. At least the use of nano-silver is helping delay the problem because one tenth of the material is needed per device. Rare earths and other precious elements are also widely used in thin film devices intended for volume use. The words "rare" and "volume" sit awkwardly together.
Totally new capabilities
Replacing a mobile phone display with a somewhat better one thanks to OLEDs or electrophoretics does not release the supplier from the very tough price competition in that industry. By contrast, creating totally new products and concepts can be highly lucrative and a delight to users.
Here comes the magic
It is now realised that organic and printed electronics is the doorway to a considerable number of new possibilities. For example, some viewers complained that a recent James Bond film had entered the realms of fantasy by having a disappearing car. However, perfectly adaptive electronic camouflage is now a military program. People laughed at the talking, all knowing shop windows in the film Minority Report but talking windows appeared in London three years later. They did not know your preferences and address you by name, but some of that capability is now in the laboratory.
Wearable electronics has passed from the realm of childrens' books to reality and there is much more to come. In the last year, Ubiquitous Sensor Networks USN have been trialled in Korea for monitoring rivers, buildings, hospitals and industrial greenhouses and Telepathx in Australia has bid to put them on very large numbers of trees, the better to control forest fires and save lives. Below are some of the current developments enabled by organic and printable electronics. Perhaps the old saying, "What one man can dream of, another man can do." is right after all.
Printed Electronics Makes Awesome New Things Possible
Let us look at the significance of a few of these new paradigms.
If we make very thin and lightweight products that are foldable we have the ACREO concept of packaging that refolds to become something useful. We also have large area self assembly electronics. Konarka has a laptop charger that is a solar panel that folds to the size of a pack of cards and Orion Solar has solar panels for your house that fold up so you can easily get them home after purchase.
Somark Innovations has patented edible printed RFID for tracing cattle and meat and Eastman Kodak has recently patented edible printed RFID for drug monitoring. There is no silicon chip involved in either case. Tokyo University and others have announced various forms of stretchable electronics that will have many uses from healthcare to fashion.
However, the potential uses of organic and printed electronics are now so many and so varied that no one talks any more about organic materials taking over in all cases. Indeed, composites of organic and inorganic materials are becoming very common. They include ruthenium organic dyes on titanium dioxide nanoparticles for Dye Sensitised Solar Cells. In the UK, G24i now has a factory producing these on flexible substrates using ink jet. Elegantly, the factory is powered by solar cells and wind turbines.
Then there is recent success with transistors using silicon nanoparticles in organic inks. It used to be believed that both inorganic and organic semiconductors had to be as crystalline as possible to give high charge carrier mobility and therefore high frequency of operation in transistors. However, the InGaZnO transistors being printed by Tokyo Institute of Technology and Toppan Printing Japan are amorphous. An organic carrier is used in the ink. The resulting transistor arrays form backplanes for flexible electrophoretic displays.
Breakdown of the old certainties
Enthusiasts for organic electronics have begun to think that almost anything will eventually be possible with their technology. A very important milestone in this has been Merck announcing a 3.5cm2/vs stable, printable polymer. This is the final nail in the coffin of thin film amorphous silicon in transistors. aSi is not suitable for low cost flexible substrates and now it no longer has an advantage over printed organic semiconductors in mobility and therefore frequency of operation.
On the other hand, we have identified no significant progress towards economic, printable, organic dielectrics of high permittivity. These are needed for transistor gates, capacitors and so on and there may be fundamental limits to the permittivity of organic compounds. It was perceived that the traditional ceramic high permittivity dielectrics would never be printed ie we would never learn how to "print pottery". Fortunately, the laboratories of Motorola and Hewlett Packard have proved that wrong, even with the archetypal barium titanate.
The US company Evident is supplying inorganic compound quantum dots a few nanometers across in organic carriers. Universities are printing these to make improved transistors, solar cells and so on. Rare materials are not needed but the quantum effects involved are magic indeed. Bear in mind that the Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said, "Nobody understands quantum theory."
Rapidly changing situation
A summary of the predominant chemistry being used and developed for the different device layers is given below. However, this is very much a changing situation. For example, Waseda University Japan has announced an organic flexible battery that charges in only one minute and many new organic electrolytes for thin film lithium batteries are coming along.
The predominance of different chemistries in printed and thin film electronics today. Inorganic is shown in dark green, organic in red and alternative/combined solutions in light green. White indicates where there in nothing. For example, a memory does not have an electrolyte.
Current Situation - Organic vs Inorganic
Electrophoretics take a lead
Before flexible OLEDs are sold in volume, flexible electrophoretic displays are taking off. This is a very exciting segment of the market because these displays have no need for power until the image is being changed and they work well in strong sunlight. Indeed rigid versions are used in Motorola mobile phones in India. Leaders in electrophoretic displays include Prime View Technology in Taiwan, Toshiba in Japan, Innos/ Polymer Vision in the UK (first flexible versions in June 2007), Tainjin Jinke Electronics in China and, of course, Sony. They are ideal for shelf edge displays, road and airport signage, e-books, e-posters and many other applications. Note that most of these applications make new things possible and few of them replace anything electronic.
Ink suppliers E-ink, SiPix and others are working on colour versions and problems of life, sticky images etc are largely overcome, often by using combined organic/ inorganic constructions. Large areas are possible.
Clearly, the world of organic and printed electronics has become much more exciting in the last year and this will continue. Over 1000 organisations are now involved.
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