Although there are very few Western giant corporations active in printed and potentially printed electronics compared to East Asia, there are some new entrants in 2007 and some of those already active have sharply increased the level of their activity, particularly in Europe. Henkel of Germany has entered the field by buying the National Starch subsidiary of ICI from Akzo Nobel, the company that bought ICI in late 2007 for its paint division. Henkel thus boosted both its adhesives and its electronic materials activity which will now support the printed electronics industry.
Within the framework of a cooperative project, BASF's Performance Chemicals division and Robert Bosch GmbH's Lab Systems business sector are developing a so-called high-throughput screening plant (HTS plant) to speed up the testing of pigments, resins and additives in coating formulations. This ultra-modern robotic facility was brought into service at BASF's site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, at the end of 2006. That was followed in 2007 by a joint venture with Bosch to develop and sell organic photovoltaic compounds.
German technology initiative
Then, in June 2007, it was announced that the partners, together with Merck Chemical and glassmaker Schott, had become founding members of a technology initiative of Germany's federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which will invest in research to expand the applications of the new photovoltaics and reduce cost. The Ministry will provide €60 million for research to develop this market, and the industry up to €300 million.
"The initiative to promote organic photovoltaics is an example of how we combine our strengths to invest in new technologies," announced Dr. Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister for Research. The objective is to use new materials, production processes and installation technologies to make the organic solar cells more efficient and cost effective.
According to the promoters of the initiative, organic solar cells are flexible, thin, light and colour tunable and that makes them suitable for foldable cell phone chargers for use on cars. Their main area of application is expected to be in the construction industry from 2015 onwards, where the cells will be used in the form of a thin layer of plastic on roofing, windows and facades.
BASF and Bosch back Heliatek
To further develop organic photovoltaics, BASF and Bosch are supporting research in Heliatek GmbH in Germany, jointly investing an initial €3.2 million in the start-up company, founded in 2006. The company is working on technology to build large scale modules on cheap, flexible substrates using a roll-to-roll production process. Ten percent photovoltaic efficiency is a target.
BASF transistor materials
In late 2007, BASF also started manufacture of printable transistor semiconductors and dielectrics under license. Deals were made with Polyera and Rieke metals to enable this.
The USA has not seen this amount of movement among the giants but GE of the USA continues to plan how it would move beyond the old silicon photovoltaics. In 2007 GE also set up a joint venture with Konica Minolta of Japan to commercialise OLED lighting.
AVANCIS backed by Shell and Saint Gobain
AVANCIS is a recent joint venture between Shell and another giant corporation, the French glassmaker Saint-Gobain. It will develop, produce and market solar power modules based on CIS technology - modules containing very thin layers of copper, indium and selenium to convert sunlight directly into electricity.
AVANCIS combines Shell CIS technology expertise, aided by eight years of commercial manufacturing at the Camarillo plant in California, with Saint-Gobain's knowledge in glass processing and production of building materials. (CIS is the generic group of compounds of which CIGS is one of the most promising, though sometimes the terms are both used to mean CIGS alone.) However, IDTechEx believes the largest opportunity probably lies in reel to reel production of CIGS on plastic film using printing and not on glass. Look to Nanosolar for that today but perhaps AVANCIS will also become involved in such options too.
The first AVANCIS module production facility will be located at Torgau, Germany whereas the largest Nanosolar factory is being built near Berlin. The annual capacity of the AVANCIS plant will initially be 20 MWp, with a scope for rapid expansion. The production process for this line was developed at the AVANCIS R&D centre in Munich, Germany. AVANCIS CIGS modules will be available from 2008 onwards. The modules, with their naturally uniform tinted black look, offer superior aesthetics and are designed to "maximise light to electricity conversion, including at low light, shades and clouds". AVANCIS claims to hold many of the fundamental patents for CIS technology.
To find out more read Printed and Thin Film Photovoltaics and Batteries and attend Printed Electronics USA.
By Peter Harrop