By Peter Harrop, chairman, IDTechEx
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, color 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 flatscreen TV screens, greatly reducing the cost. This is a more sophisticated application of the principle used to print membrane keyboards and battery electrodes.”
What gets noticed
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 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 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 (PV) materials and technology offering. DuPont exceeded $1 billion in revenue from sales into the conventional PV market last yer, 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,” says 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.”
Selective-Emitter PV tech to triple?
The press release told us that Innovalight, located in Sunnyvale, CA, has developed innovative proprietary silicon-ink products, process technology and a pipeline of anticipated products. Silicon inks used in conjunction with DuPont™ Solamet® PV-metallization pastes boost the amount of electricity produced from sunlight, enabling the production of superior Selective Emitter solar cells. 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,” says Innovalight founder Conrad Burke. “Our offerings are complementary, and together we will broaden and accelerate our ability to meet customer needs and address today’s energy challenges with our continued innovations.”
In addition, DuPont’s broad range of offerings in PV-module materials, including backsheet films and encapsulants, will 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, CA, is printing the logic in the electronic tickets of the Los Angeles Metro, replacing the silicon chip, cutting costs. Forget what people told you about printed electronics not threatening the silicon chip.
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 color displays and entirely printed battery and logic.
My Thoughts: For more on these and other developments from companies such as Oxylane, De La Rue, the University of Illinois, Artificial Muscle and Bayer of Germany, join me and Converting Quarterly at Printed Electronics USA & Photovoltaics USA 2011 (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) in Santa Clara, CA. CQ will exhibit in Booth B-113. Stop by and pick up a copy of our 2011 Quarter 4 issue.