New Materials, Manufacturing Steps Propel Printed Electronics

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Printed and flexible electronic materials already used in smartphones and sensors are forecast to find new applications in medical devices and “smart packaging.” Those emerging use cases have prompted a market tracker to predict demand for electronic materials like OLEDs and photovoltaics will hit $6.9 billion by over the next decade.

Leading materials include new OLED emitters, conductive inks and conductive adhesives, according to a market survey by IDTechX. Along with organic light-emitting diodes, emerging printed electronic materials include organic photovoltaics, photodetectors and thin-film transistors. Other promising approaches include carbon nanotubes, quantum dots and perovskite semiconductors used in optoelectronics applications.

In order for these materials to catch, the industry analyst emphasizes these organic materials must be stable and straightforward to manufacture.

“Clearly OLEDs are the big commercial success story, with the displays now a $30 billion market,” IDTechX notes. “However, there are still extensive opportunities for innovative organic semiconductors across multiple applications.”

Renewed interest in organic photovoltaics has resulted from the recent transition to non-fullerene acceptors with improved material stability as well as energy conversion efficiency. Those acceptors are used in organic solar cells, replacing fullerene acceptors previously used as the main acceptor in bulk heterojunction cells.

That transition makes the non-fullerene version a promising candidate for applications such as incorporating organic photovoltaics materials into construction materials and indoor photovoltaics.

Meanwhile, related organic photodetector (OPD) materials are also gaining traction, the industry watcher said, for hybrid applications such as OPD-on-silicon. That combination holds promise for increasing the sensitivity of silicon photodetectors operating in the short-wave, infrared (SWIR) spectral band.

In one recent automotive application, Tel Aviv-based SWIR sensing technology developer TriEye recently announced that Japan’s Denso is evaluating its prototype camera based on SWIR technology. TriEye is focused on solving low-visibility issues critical to the automotive sector.

The other key to commercialization of printed and flexible electronic materials is new manufacturing techniques. IDTechX cites the emerging flexible hybrid electronics approach as most promising. The composite approach combines print functionality with “placed components.”  The emerging manufacturing capability could be used to link rigid components with to flexible substrates with different mechanical and thermal properties.

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