Nanomaterial ITO alternatives make commercial gains

Sara Ver-Bruggen - 15 Dec 2010


Transparent conductive films that exploit nanomaterials are beginning to make inroads into electronics markets dominated by indium tin oxide (ITO).

Nanomaterial-based ITO alternatives are being used in niche applications, such as touchscreens for consumer electronics. Image: SamsungMore products are being commercialised, and deals between electronics manufacturers, industrial producers and providers of alternative transparent conductive coatings are helping these technologies establish themselves in the transparent conductor market. This market is expected to be worth over €5 billion in the next five years.

In December California-based Unidym struck a deal with Korea's Samsung Electronics involving licensing key patents to Samsung, including use of its carbon nanotube (CNT) transparent conductive films, ink formulations, and CNT processing and production for electronic device applications.

As part of the deal Samsung has granted to Unidym licenses to sell products developed under the transferred patent rights. The agreement builds on several years of collaboration between the companies and suggests that Unidym's alternative ITO film technology could be used in mainstream electronic applications.


Drivers

Driving the alternative ITO market is the rising cost of ITO again, according to a new report by NanoMarkets, Transparent Conductor Markets 2010: ITO and the Alternatives.

In 2009 low ITO prices suppressed demand for ITO alternatives, according to the report. Manufacturers in electronics and photovoltaics industries are looking to keep production costs and bill of materials down though, making them more receptive to alternatives that compete with ITO. This is opening up opportunities for advanced nano-based transparent conductive films. By 2015 ITO alternatives will account for 20% of the transparent conductor market, from 5% in 2010, forecasts Nanomarkets.


Nanosilver coatings

Other nanomaterials-based ITO alternatives include Cambrios and Cima NanoTech in the US, which have developed conductive coatings by suspending silver nanowires in a solution. The ability to deposit the films using low-temperature processing such as roll-to-roll coating and printing makes the technology cost-effective, as opposed to high-temperature sputtering for ITO. Cima NanoTech's industrial production partner is Toray, a Japanese chemical company.

Silver nanomaterials are a popular choice for alternative ITO coatings due to the metal's high conductivity, so a relatively small amount is needed - which helps to ensure resulting films are transparent.

Last month Carestream Advanced Materials launched a line of transparent conductive films, targeting touchscreen applications.

The Flexx films, based on silver nanomaterials, are applied by roll-to-roll coating. The combination of the coating method on plastic PET substrates produces a film more flexible and cost-effective than ITO alternatives.

Carestream Advanced Materials' films can be used with touch panels, OLED lighting and displays, flexible displays, printed electronics and photovoltaics, and the company is developing future versions for more mainstream applications in the next 12 months.

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