By Debayan Chaudhury
August 16, 2015
In general, when one comes across the terms electronics, the picture that comes to mind is of metals and silicon semiconductors. But in recent years a new technology is emerging, intent on replacing conventional metallic components in electronics. This technology is based on the conductive property of organic small molecules or polymers.
The first recorded mention of organic conductors was in 1862, by Henry Letheby. Since then progress and development has been slow. It is only in recent years that this technology has advanced enough to start commercializing products using organic electronics.
I had an opportunity to assess the organic electronics demand in Europe, Korea, and Japan, as part of a research project I carried out with AcuBiz. The aim of this article is to assess the market trends that will influence the demand for organic electronics in these countries, in some of the key application segments.
OLED vs LED
Organic semiconductors are used mainly in the manufacturing of Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLEDs), which are used in displays and lighting. OLED displays are superior to conventional displays in terms of flexibility and resolution. Unlike the normal rigid displays, OLED displays can be bent and folded, which offer incredible logistics advantages in terms of storage as well as transport. In addition, the resolution of OLED displays is far better than normal displays. In the current organic electronics market, OLEDs claim the highest market share. Several multinational electronic companies are in the process of developing OLED TVs and mobile screens.
Geographically, Korea is ahead of European and Japanese markets in the OLED race. LG and Samsung in Korea are some of the key players in the OLED industry. Japan also contributes significantly to the OLED market. Philips has sold it’s OLED business to an American start up in February 2015, indicating that the OLED industry in Europe is lagging behind compared to some of the Asian markets.
The OLED technology is still being refined, to address various challenges associated with these products in various application segments. Some of the major challenges are related to the cost and lifetime in comparison to the conventional LEDs. LEDs continue to be cheaper and OLEDs fall short of the longer lifetimes offered by LED suppliers. LED technology is also undergoing further technological advancements in parallel. Hence, these two technology platforms are expected to compete with each other for some time.
Europe is leading the OPV segment
Another major application area of organic electronics is in the development of organic solar cells. Organic semiconductors used in solar cells work on the principle that exposure to sunlight leads to electron emission constituting a current. The flexibility offered by these products is an important advantage in this application segment as well since organic photovoltaics (OPVs) OPVs play a critical role in Building Integrated Organic Photovoltaic (BIOPV) projects, which incorporates solar cells into building walls – a distinct advancement from traditional roof-tile solar cells.
Europe is the leader when it comes to organic solar cells.
Several German companies based in Dresden are offering OPV cells and related products. Some of these companies are involved in projects certain milestone projects, which have the potential to shape the future demand for OPV products. For instance, Heliatek GmbH has recently completed a huge BIOPV project in Singapore. There are also many research institutions in Europe conducting active research in OPV field. In contrast, Korea has little activity in this area. Japan has a few companies offering OPV products, but nothing significant.
In contrast to OLEDs, organic solar cells face greater competition. They have to compete with the current silicon based solar cells, as well as other third generation solar cells such as Dye Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSCs) and Quantum Dot Technology based solar cells. Major bottleneck for OPV market growth is the low efficiency of organic solar cells. Heliatek currently holds the record with 12% efficiency in ideal conditions, but a minimum of 15% efficiency under normal conditions is required to outpace other competing technologies. Nevertheless, things look promising as more and more breakthroughs are being reported every day.
Potentials in RFID Markets
Application of organic electronics in the radio frequency identification (RFID) sector is in its infancy stages at present, but future seems to be promising. This field is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, and revolutionize the current RFID technology. If production costs can be lowered, organic RFID (ORFID) tags will find wide spread use, particularly in the area of tracking foodstuffs. Though there are no companies offering ORFID products at present, market forecasts by many analysts indicate that the demand will increase drastically within two years.
Though the market for organic electronics is currently limited, and the major application segments are outpaced by conventional technologies, future of organic electronics seems to be promising. Key players in the market around the world are making large scale investments in this field as this technology has the potential to revolutionize our everyday life. And thus, lead to a brighter future.