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Smart Coatings: What’s Missing from the Internet-of-Things?
Published: December 16, 2014 Category:

The smart coatings industry is now facing some issues that seemed almost unfathomable up until recently. The sudden decline in oil prices has not only taken the steam out its energy efficiency story but threatens to curb the resurgent green tech sector where self-healing and self-cleaning coatings had viable applications. Throw in a slowing global economy and you get the sense that the industry needs to look at other growth options.

NanoMarkets believes that the emergent Internet-of-Things is an area that might drive demand for the types of smart and highly functional coatings that generate the high value product sales.

A Role for Smart Coatings in the IoT?

The idea behind the IoT is that buildings, appliances, machines and objects more generally will become more responsive to human needs in both personal and professional environments. The goal here is the same one that has motivated automation since the beginning; to free up time, so that people can do what they would rather be doing.

At the present time, the IoT is usually presented as consisting of networks of Internet-connected sensors, and multiprocessing units (MPUs). Smart materials such as coatings are hardly mentioned in current IoT literature. Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that smart coatings in the IoT would be a perfect fit. For example, self-cleaning and self-repairing coatings couldn’t be better suited to the IoT philosophy; what could be more convenient and save more time than surfaces that clean and repair themselves? And that is something that sensors in the usual meaning of the word can’t do.

The way NanoMarkets sees it, however, smart coatings may do more than just complement sensors in the IoT. They can compete with IoT sensors directly since some stimuli-responsive coatings can act directly as a sensor. A smart coating that is also a sensor would likely be a more cost effective way to create a wide-area sensing panel than a large array of sensing devices. Wide-area sensing is, again, a functionality that is intrinsic to the IoT philosophy.

Smart Coatings for the IoT: What is Needed?

NanoMarkets believes that by latching onto the current IoT meme, smart coatings firms will be able to generate new revenues from emerging IoT opportunities. At the very least, they will be able to drum up new interest in their products, based on the current buzz around IoT; much like what they did with all that enthusiasm around “sustainable energy” in the recent past.

However, we also think that smart coatings will need to exhibit some special characteristics if they are to become a major part of the IoT meme and that this will inspire important new R&D, products and even a few new startups.

Internet connectivity: In order to fit in with IoT, a smart coating needs to be able to send signals to the Internet. This means that – directly or indirectly – the coating must be able to send an electrical response that matches the stimuli it is sensing or how the coating is responding to these stimuli.

Active versus passive coatings: The thinking behind IoT suggests to us that active smart coatings may be more suitable than passive ones. IoT, although not well defined, seems to require a fairly high level of “intelligence,” and this can best be provided for by an active coating that can be controlled with an electric current; switched on, switched off and adjusted through a range of states.

Passive smart coatings would seem to have a lesser role in the IoT, but this does not mean no role at all. They may find specialist applications or serve where cost is more of a consideration than high levels of performance.

Self-healing and self-cleaning materials: Self-cleaning and self-healing coatings have been commercially available for many years, but when one digs into the actual performance of such coatings they aren’t much to write home about.

Commercial self-healing coatings are often liquids or gels that cover up scratches and have an effective lifetime of a few years. Similarly, self-cleaning glass has been in use in residential buildings for quite a number of years now, but this has never been able to break out of the low-performance residential windows market, because again, it doesn’t last that long.

As already noted, self-cleaning and self-cleaning coatings fit in well with IoT. And they are also at the forefront of smart coating R&D. NanoMarkets expects that some of this work will take a specifically IoT turn. For example, in the self-healing area, consider the use of shape memory to provide new characteristics to self-repair. Or stimuli-responsive carbon nanotube and polymers that are the basis for highly functional wide-area sensors.

Such R&D could lead to IoT-related coatings, but with greater functionality than any of today’s smart coating functionality. Thus, potentially at least, one might have self-healing coating would actually self-heal, that is repair itself in the literal sense of the word, not be just an anti-scratch coating. NanoMarkets also envisages a self-cleaning glass would last as long as an IGU.

“Direct” versus “indirect” product directions: NanoMarkets believes that R&D directions in smart coatings can be classified into two kinds; “direct” and “indirect.”

Direct R&D is the work that results in exciting new kinds of functionality that directlyimpact the marketplace– the kinds of functionality that we have described above for IoT applications. Some direct R&D consists in improving on what has already succeeded in the marketplace – new antimicrobials based on (say) organosilane or block copolymers, for example. But other external R&D seems ready to produce products that will in a sense be genuinely new to the market.

By contrast indirect R&D leads to enabling materials that make it easier to develop smart coatings include those tied to the IoT. What we are talking about here are performance additives for coating formulations, new kinds of binders and pigments, smart fillers for coatings, and hybrid/composite coatings. This kind of R&D doesn’t produce novel kinds of smart coatings. It just makes it easier to produce those novel coatings.

Competition

These suggestions about the future of smart coatings may seem bullish to some. However, we are not claiming that they are inevitable, just a likely direction where the smart coatings firms can most likely make some money over the next decade.

In the IoT area, smart coatings will certainly experience competition. As already noted, arrays of individual sensors are certainly a close substitute for some smart-coated substrates, although sensor arrays may be more expensive than coatings. And smart coatings have an even closer competitor in the form of smart surfaces, which can achieve many of the same effects as smart coatings, but through nano-patterning surfaces. Smart surfaces are only beginning to be commercialized and smart coatings have a head start.

So as NanoMarkets sees things, the current buzz around IoT may open entirely new opportunities for the smart coatings business.

Mapping Market Trajectories: Where Sensors in the Industrial Internet Will Take Off
Published: November 18, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics

In our previous article examining sensors and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we identified the key IIoT sensing requirements (e.g., cost, power consumption, reliability, security) and the companies we expect to assume leadership positions in delivering them, from today's big conglomerates to entrepreneurial sensor startups. Here we expand the view to examine the end markets in which these capabilities are coalescing, and thus define the real opportunities for the IIoT.

Defining IIoT End Markets: Who's In, Who's Out

We begin by narrowing the “Industrial Internet” to sectors that are specifically business-to-business plays: factory automation, electricity grid, building automation, oil and gas industry, and transportation encompassing rail, roads, and aerospace (but not general consumer automotive). At their core, they all share an increasing need for rugged networks that connect complex machines with the purpose of enhancing efficiency, profitability, and safety.

Not all those markets represent significant opportunities for sensor suppliers, however, most especially in the short-term view. Sensors are generally inexpensive devices, usually a few dollars except in rare specialized applications (an oil moisture sensor in the electricity grid can run in the thousands of dollars). Thus, for sensor revenue generation to add up to large amounts, three criteria must be met: a large addressable market, and openness to both deployment of advanced automation technology and Internet connectivity.

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The Growing Demand for Industrial Internet Sensors
Published: October 21, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics Smart Technology

The “Industrial Internet” is a term originally coined by GE, but now widely used and embodies the concept of industrial environments that are automated using sensor networks and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The Industrial Internet is also closely associated with concept of the Internet-of-Things (IoT). Indeed, the Industrial Internet could be thought of as the IoT restricted to industrial situations, acknowledging that these situations have special needs. Although there is no accepted applicability of “Industrial Internet,” NanoMarkets think it reasonable to assume that Industrial Internets will increasingly be found in factory automation, commercial building automation, the energy industry and public transport of various kinds.

These are different settings in many ways, but NanoMarkets believes that they are all increasingly share a need for rugged networks that connect up complex machines with the purpose of enhancing efficiency, profitability and safety. The hidden assumption behind Industrial Internet concept is that a common platform with similar sensor infrastructure could serve for these many different applications.

Opportunities for Sensors in the Industrial Internet: Large and Growing

Granted this assumption, NanoMarkets believes that the opportunities for sensors in the Industrial Internet are both large in number and fast growing:

To ensure their main objectives Industrial Internets must collect many different kinds of information from machines and their environment making the sensor industry a key beneficiary of the rise of the Industrial Internet. For example, GE’s new battery factory in New York contains more than 10,000 sensors spread across 180,000 square feet of manufacturing space

The Industrial Internet opportunity for sensor makers is not just large; it is growing. Cisco estimates that sensors currently are installed on fewer than 1% of Internet devices. By 2020, Cisco expects 50 billion devices to be interconnected

Transition to specialist sensors expected: Initially, NanoMarkets believes that such deployments will make use of conventional industrial sensors, so the Industrial Internet. This will mean a surge in revenues for established industrial sensor makers. However, NanoMarkets believes that this “surge” will be driven primarily by the absence of sensors that are specifically tailored to the needs of the Industrial Internet. In other words we believe that there is the likelihood of a new kind of sensor emerging to meet the needs of the emergent industrial Internet.

At first such needs will not seem qualitatively different from the needs of sensors in any industrial setting. However, we believe that the circumstances in which Industrial Internet sensors are going to deployed will – within a few years – impose requirements on Industrial Internet sensors that will shape a new generation of sensors. These requirements and likely developments are shown below.

See full article: http://nanomarkets.net/images/uploads/Industrial_Sensors.pdf

Making the Case for Transparent OLED Displays
Published: October 20, 2014 Category:

Transparent displays have been around for a very long time in the form of heads-up displays (HUDs) in aircraft and (to a limited extent) in retail displays, markets seen as too tiny by the large display makers and largely left to smaller firms and niche technologies. In the past two or three years, however, NanoMarkets notes that transparent display technology has been edging towards the mainstream, thanks to both a push from the supply side and a pull from the demand side:

  • Keenly aware of the maturing liquid-crystal display (LCD) market's slowing growth trajectory, display makers are desperate to add new kinds of functionalities, even if it means pursuing and adopting another technology with higher-growth promise.
  • New trends in consumer electronics, including the widening category of wearable computing devices, seem to call out for transparent displays. Companies jostling for position include all the well-known consumer electronics firms (Samsung, LG, Sony, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.) and suppliers would be foolhardy to ignore any potential market that includes them.

Transparency should be seen as one of a number of ways that the display industry is attempting to add dramatic new kinds of functionality to displays, alongside the addition of touch control and flexible substrates. Considerable progress has been made in each of these areas, though a truly transparent, flexible touch-screen display is a long way off due to various technical reasons and a lack of mature end-markets demanding the capability right now.

Download full articlehttp://nanomarkets.net/images/uploads/TOLED.pdf

The Evolution of Smart Clothing: Better Fabrics and Sensors
Published: October 20, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics Smart Technology

Wearable computing is lauded as the next evolution of computing and interactivity. Today this is manifesting in the market with "smart" watches and displays and the first wave of "smart glasses." The next step in wearable computing is in "smart" clothing, i.e. fabrics integrated with various electronics and computing components and energy harvesting, and even fabrics that incorporate some of those capabilities themselves. Some clothing that could be plausibly considered "smart" has been available for years, essentially as a niche market.

NanoMarkets sees this category poised to emerge into the spotlight and becoming a significant revenue generator for various levels in the supply chain, from materials suppliers to retailers. The key lies in the progress of development and commercialization of new and improved fabrics and sensors that are the essential building blocks for the capabilities -- and value -- of various smart clothing products. Three main barriers historically have been, and continue to be, at the center of development for "smart clothing" to pave the way for mass adoption: improved connectivity between modules, improved washability of smart fabrics, and standardized protocols. Thus, here also lies the opportunity for both materials and sensor manufacturers to develop new and improved types of smart fabrics and sensors: from lighter, soft flexible sensors to functional fabrics, conductive polymers, and even fibertronics that can function without the need for sensors.

Download: http://nanomarkets.net/images/uploads/Wearables.pdf

Smart Glasses and the Evolution of Human-Computing Interfaces
Published: October 15, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology
Within the emerging category of wearable computing, arguably the most characteristic product to emerge is "smart glasses" which mesh the communications capabilities of smartphones with additional visual and other sensual enhancements, including augmented reality. The primary selling feature of smart glasses is their ability to display video, navigation, messaging, augmented reality (AR) applications, and games on a large virtual screen, all completely hands-free. The current poster child for smart glasses is Google’s "Glass" product, but there are more than 20 firms offering smart glasses or planning to do so.
 
The hands-free nature of smart glasses opens up new possibilities for human-computer interfaces (HCI), drawing from smart phones as well as interfaces developed in other contexts (e.g. virtual reality). Early smart glasses models are leaning on mature and low-cost technologies with notable influence from smartphones; however we see a gradual trend for smart glasses (and other wearable computing devices) to be driven by more natural interface controls, once these technologies have time to mature as well -- and they're getting remarkably close.
 
Touch: A Logical First Step
 
The most prominent smart glasses user interface in these earliest iterations is touch sensitivity, through a touchpad built into the glasses formfactor itself or through a separate pocket-sized tethered accessory device which contains most of the actual componentry including a touchpad. Most of the prominent smart glasses offerings utilize a touch interface, most notably Google Glass which is so far the mind- and market-share leader in this market. This is influencing other OEMs, and suppliers, to think about these first smart glasses products involving some kind of touch interface. Leveraging mobile-device touch interfaces also leverages the benefits of lower costs of the technology. Adding touch functionality to low-cost high-volume consumer products is progressively becoming noticeably inexpensive.
 
NanoMarkets believes that touch likely will continue to play a role in smart glasses user interface throughout the next several years -- but it will be a diminishing role, both as the technology moves further away from its smartphone inspiration and established itself firmly, and as other supporting interface capabilities improve.
 
Voice Recognition: Seeking a Balance
 
The next step for smart-glasses HCI is voice command recognition, arguably a better fit for such a hands-free wearable application. Google Glass already uses voice recognition; other smart glasses developers incorporating or considering it include Brilliant Labs (Mirama One), Kopin (Golden-i HMD), Vuzix (M-100), and Epson (BT-200). Kopin's Pupil design eschews touch entirely in favor of voice recognition. Samsung is among several companies reportedly in talks with Nuance, the company that helped Google develop Siri, reportedly with an eye toward finding a use for its own future smart glasses.
 
This technology is fairly mature. Various voice recognition applications such as Siri are proliferating in the smartphone market. Chips that provide speech recognition, synthesis, and system control on a single chip can be procured for $1-$5 (depending on volumes, packaging type, and memory size), though at the component level another $10 or so will be needed for the audio system which is required in any voice recognition system. Speech-to-text may have a future role to play in smart glasses as well, though it does not appear to be widely used. Researchers at Oxford University have already developed a smart glasses prototype with speech-text capability targeting the market for the visually impaired. In the commercial area, two applications (WatchMeTalk and SubtleGlass) are able to convert speech to text; and OrCam Technologies has developed a camera that attaches to any glasses (not just "smart glasses") to "see" text on almost substrate and read the text aloud, with future plans to include facial recognition and the ability to recognize places.
 
While voice is possibly the best balance (right now) between "naturalness" and technology maturity, it is not really a selling feature per se, and our impression is that smart glasses OEMs are not making much of a fuss about it yet. We expect more smart glasses OEMs to quietly adopt voice recognition, and likely it will become a ubiquitous interface for the next several years, until the next and future HCI technology matures and overtakes it: gesture control.
 
Gestural Control: The Future of Natural HCI
 
Neither touch nor voice, in our opinion, are the eventual winning user interface for smart glasses. Touching one's glasses is not a commonly performed gesture, and a tactile interface action doesn't seem to align with the hands-free paradigm. Meanwhile, talking out loud in some environments can be challenging (e.g., a busy warehouse or metropolitan area) or incompatible with privacy or security needs (e.g., a hospital; also perhaps awkward in general consumer use.) Instead, we expect the eventual ascension of a truly more natural HCI for a wearable electronic device: gesture recognition.
 
Several different technologies are currently available for tracking motions and gestures, but these technologies are intended to support gaming, medical and systems that are not smart glasses in any sense.
 
Smart Glasses and the Evolution of Human-Computing Interfaces
 
Among these gestural options, eye tracking takes on special importance in the context of a smart-glasses interface for obvious reasons. Yet this technology has some way to progress before it's truly ready. In some of today's commercial smart glasses technologies, head tracking is often used instead. APX Labs, for example, claims to have provisional patents on gesture and motion-based input based on onboard sensors, tracking a user's head rather than eyes to interact with content displayed on the screen. Improved accuracy and reliability are needed if eye tracking is to do more than tell whether the user is looking at one of several specific locations.
 
We would note that for eye tracking, subsystems not long ago cost several thousands of dollars, but low-cost (and low-performance) eye tracking sub-systems can be obtained now. For example, The Eye Tribe offers a subsystem for around $100; and U.K. researchers claim a design that could deliver eye tracking for around $30 per item.
 
Making Gesture Work for Smart Glasses
 
At the moment, gestural recognition suffers from a lack of technological maturity. In commercial applications it doesn't quite deliver needed functionality, nor is it sufficiently reliable or robust to be extended into a consumer electronics product. There are a multitude of improvements that NanoMarkets believes will be needed if gestural recognition is ever to become common, especially for consumer-oriented smart glasses:
 
Low power.  Sensors in gestural recognition have tended to be power hogs, but sensor makers are coming up with new IMU sensors that consume almost no power in standby mode and reasonably little when fully active. Higher-capacity batteries and other energy sources could be appropriate in this context, though there would be a trade-off with other system requirements, ultimately with cost as the bottom line.
 
Better data capture.  Subsystems must support the sophisticated movements that are a normal part of the human gestural repertoire. For example, Atheer Labs is developing a smart-glasses product that can track in all hand orientations, both hands, and up to 10-finger identification (multiple fingers tracked separately). As part of this trend, NanoMarkets expects more use of time-of-flight (ToF) sensors. Brilliant Labs is integrating ToF for gesture recognition, since it does not depend on surrounding light (it has its own light source), provides clear images, can cancel out noise easily, provides good depth measurements, and can be used in most environments. This is seen as better than RGB cameras which have difficulty tracking gestures and canceling background noise.
 
Improved cameras.  To the extent that cameras are used for gestural recognition in smart glasses, one can assume that they will grow beyond off-the-shelf 2D cameras to stereo cameras and then to 3D cameras with image sensors that can detect image and depth information at the same time. To this end, ToF cameras could very well be the next big thing in optical gesture recognition. Instead of scanning a scene, ToF cameras emit IR light and measure how long it takes the light to travel to the image, be reflected, and travel back to the image sensor. An array of pixels image every point at once. While it is possible to obtain full 3D imaging by other methods, ToF promises very fast response times because it collects data from an entire scene at once rather than scanning the field of view. ToF systems are not cheap, however, which may limit their use in consumer devices.
 
Most smart glasses OEMs appear to view gesture recognition capability as still some ways off, but the majority of OEMs are working on this issue. In some cases, this work is just R&D, but there are also some gestural recognition that is already embodied in commercial smart glasses. Numerous efforts from lab projects (SixthSense) to large company patents (Microsoft, Google) to product development (Epson, Pivothead, Sony, Technical Illusions, Thalmic Labs, Vuzix) are exploring and incorporating gesture control in a smart glasses product, from gesture to head tracking to eye tracking interfaces.
 
We believe that smart glasses will follow a trajectory towards more natural HCIs, so that the smart glasses gradually "merge" with the body. The problem is that gestural recognition is still not quite reliable and does not yet offer the cost/performance ratio necessary for smart glasses to transition into a profitable consumer electronics item. While gestural recognition is not quite ready for prime time, it is getting close.
 
Into the Future: The Brain-Computer Interface
 
Ultimately the next step in the HCI paradigm with wearable electronics to establish the most natural interface is to remove the proverbial middlemen and develop a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device. The brain-computer interface (BCI) has long been a sci-fi staple, and the first neuroprosthetic devices implanted in humans appeared in the mid-1990s, but there is still much R&D activity happening in this area. Mostly these have focused on medical applications such as restoring damaged hearing, sight, and movement.
 
Recently, however, lower-cost BCIs have begun to emerge, aimed at R&D or gaming applications. These could be transferred to smart glasses at some time, and we would not be surprised to see such brain-computer interfaces appear in future generations of smart glasses in a few years time -- however, most smart glasses OEMs appear to be not yet thinking about this.
Why We’re Bullish on OLED Lighting in Automotive
Published: October 14, 2014 Category: OLEDs

The fledgling industry for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) industry is now entering a phase of concerted efforts to achieve commercialization on a wider scale. OLED lighting is inching toward mass production, particularly for industrial and large-scale applications, despite a relatively lower demand for OLED products compared to LED solutions -- for now. Office and residential lighting segments are often touted as the most preferred fits for OLED lighting technology, where OLEDs promise better aesthetics and architectural integration compared to LEDs and incandescent lights. These markets would seem most ready to pay a premium for such capabilities.

Long-term, however, NanoMarkets sees another end market emerging strongly for OLED lighting opportunities: the automotive industry, both for exterior and interior usage.

See full article: http://nanomarkets.net/images/uploads/OLED_Auto.pdf

Smart Glasses Boom Means New Business for Optical Components and Sensor Makers
Published: September 26, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Emerging Electronics Smart Technology

“Smart glasses” are the most characteristic product that has emerged from the wearable computing “revolution.” They embody many of the communications capabilities of the smartphone (which they may one day replace) along with additional visual and other sense enhancements.  They are also seen as a critical enabling technology for augmented reality.  The current poster child for smart glasses is Google’s “Glass” product, but there are more than 20 firms offering smart glasses—or planning to do so.

Although early users of smart glasses buy them because they are “cool,” the primary selling feature of smart glasses—the one that is supposed to turn them into a mass-market consumer item—is their ability to display video, navigation, messaging, augmented reality (AR) applications, and games on a large virtual screen, all completely hands free. This is essentially the advantage that smart glasses (and wearables more generally) could ultimately have over smartphones.

Assuming that the smart glasses concept takes off, NanoMarkets believes that it will open up significant business opportunities for suppliers of components and subsystems ranging from optical and audio devices, through sensors to processors of various kinds.  These opportunities are of two types, which we will call “volume sales” and “value-added.”  We profile these below.

Optical Subsystems:  First in the Value Chain

Smart glasses are optical systems using cameras, lenses and displays. An important part of the competition in the smart glasses, currently focuses on the optical subsystems that distribute optical signals within the smart glasses system.  This is because these optical subsystems sit at the core of smart glasses products and define their most important characteristics—size of image, color quality, resolution and even the aesthetics the glasses themselves. 

Importance of visual experience:  NanoMarkets believes that there are many ways that optical subsystems for will succeed in the marketplace. As we see it, a key factor will be in terms of visual experience, most notably how big the display appears to the viewer. 

The reason is that a “virtual” large screen provides a factor that dramatically distinguishes how a pair of smart glasses looks and feels to the user from what that user would get with a smart phone.  This may be defined in terms of the field of view or how big the screen appears to a user, as well as the resolution of the display.

Two Types of Opportunity for Components and Subsystems Makers in the Smart Glasses Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aesthetics of optical subsystems:  We also think the aesthetics of smart glasses will be an important competitive factor for optical subsystems, since the choice of this subsystem can impact how the glasses look when worn. 

This is important because spectacles—smart or not—are articles of clothing and the general consensus is that the current generation of smart glasses—Google Glass in particular—look strange when they are worn.  There is therefore a premium on any optical subsystem that can improve the appearance of smart glasses by, for example, pushing some of the electronics to the front or side of the head.

Emergence of the smart glasses opportunity for makers of optical subsystems:  We think that all of this puts the makers of optical subsystems in an excellent position to capture an important share of the value inherent in smart glasses.  Competition in this part of the smart glasses business is currently along two dimensions:

Rival technologies.  Both curved mirror and several kinds of waveguide technology have been tried over the years (See Exhibit)  None are completely satisfactory. We note that the mindshare leader, Google Glass has adopted a mirror-based approach, giving mirrors a kind of prominence.   But there is no guarantee that Google will continue with its current approach and NanoMarkets believes we are at an early enough stage that a start-up could quickly generate large revenues (and attract significant investment) by “building a better mousetrap,”  that is, a smaller firm could come up with a smart glasses technology which ultimately dominates the market.

Internal versus external development.  The optical subsystems currently being used in smart glasses have often been developed internally by the smart glasses makers themselves, although in some cases they have licensed the technology from third parties. NanoMarkets expects to see more such licensing with the strong possibility that independent third-party developers of optical subsystems may emerge. These firms could sell profitably to OEMs, but would not themselves have to become involved with mass consumer marketing

Optical Subsystem Technologies for Smart Glass

Sensors for Smart Glasses:  Volume Opportunity and Beyond

Many kinds of sensors are already being used in smart glasses.  These include time-of-flight sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, image sensors, thermometers, GPS, pressure and touch sensors, as well as medical and biosensors of various kinds.  As far as NanoMarkets can tell, today smart glasses OEMs are simply buying off-the-shelf sensor components. 

As discussed at the beginning of this Chapter, there is an immediate volume opportunity for sensors as the smart glasses concept begins to take off.  But NanoMarkets believes there is also potential for more profitable higher value-added products aimed at the same market.  Subsystems embodying complex environments have become possible primarily because the ongoing LSI advances associated with Moore’s Law, which have made it practical to integrate MCUs, signal processors, sensors, amplifiers and wireless interfaces into something as small and flimsy as a pair of spectacles.

Sensor fusion and sensor subsystems:  “Sensor fusion” has become a hot topic within the sensor community and refers to the subsystems that combine data from different kinds of sensors to provide information that is more accurate, more complete, and/or more dependable than is obtainable from individual sensors.

At one level almost all smart glasses use sensor fusion, since they provide stereoscopic vision by combining the data from two or more image sensors/cameras at different locations.  However, NanoMarkets believes that the potential for sensor fusion in the context of smart glasses has only just begun to be explored and opens up important opportunities for industrial designers to distinguish smart glasses products in the market.

Communications modules and access to remote sensors:  NanoMarkets believes that a more immediate opportunity for sensor subsystems will emerge as the result of a need to connect with external sensors or to send data from wearable sensors to remote processors—for example to a remote site such as a hospital server for further clinical analysis.

Again, exactly how these subsystems may be developed in the context of smart glasses are unclear and will be a matter for future industrial designers.  However, the processor electronics necessary for such subsystems are well advanced (possibly more so than for sensor fusion subsystems) as are various appropriate communications protocols—most notably ZigBee. 

NanoMarkets also thinks that what may prove to be a key enabler for this type of sensor subsystem is/will be cloud technology. Not only will cloud technology make it easy for smart glasses to access remote sensors, but cloud computing will enable the sensing software in smart glasses to be easily upgraded without the need for user installation of software in their monitoring devices, which makes it easier and cheaper to maintain the health monitoring system networks.

Control of wearable sensors from a smartphone:  A related concept—and perhaps a more immediate one—is a subsystem that provides connectivity between smartphones and smart glasses and other wearable electronics.  In fact, some early smart glasses are specifically designed to work with smart phones.  This somewhat refutes the notion that smartphones and smart glasses are in competition, although we think they will be in the long run, for now the situation is more fluid.

As an illustration of where we are now in terms of such opportunities, consider three recently published U.S. patent applications from Apple.  These cover a method in which an iPhone 5, along with one or more remote wearable sensors, gathers and processes raw data to track a user's activity level, as well as control certain scheduling functions like alarms.  After processing the data from the wearable, the iPhone can deduce what the user is doing—running, walking, sleeping, etc. and provide information on the user's lifestyle and perhaps more.  This is also an example of sensor fusion.

NanoMarkets believes that all the business opportunities profiled above will be realized in the next five to eight years.  However, strategic plans designed to capture this potential should be seen in the context of the fact that the evolution of smart glasses is at a very early stage at the present time. No one can be sure that any particular current product line or smart glasses company will survive for long; presumably many will not.  In addition, smart glasses compete at some level with the capabilities provided by the Internet-of-Things (IoT).  The balance among the IoT, wearable computing, and conventional smartphone/tablet computing has yet to be worked out by the marketplace.

Emerging Gestural Recognition Markets
Published: September 24, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics

Markets such as gaming and virtual reality have made use of gesture recognition for some time. CyberGlove Systems, for example, was founded back in 1990 and has been selling data gloves to companies, government agencies, and universities for many years. Consumers flocked to the Nintendo Wii when it came out in 2006, and then later embraced the Xbox 360, imperfect as it was, for hands-free gesture control. In the last few years controllers and gaming platforms have continued to improve.

These developments sold a lot of sensors, cameras, microcontrollers, and other components/subsystems to support gestural recognition and control software, but there wasn’t enough money in this business for many firms to see it as an opportunity.  However, this situation is beginning to change and gestural recognition is emerging as a commercial possibility for a wide range of applications. 

As a result, NanoMarkets believes that, for the first time, this is now creating significant revenue generation potential for components and subsystems suppliers in the gestural recognition space.  We are encouraged in this belief by the following trends and possibilities.

The end of touch? Gesture recognition could, over the next decade, replace touch sensing as the leading edge computer input technology. Gesture recognition is emerging in 3D form and is likely to eventually replace the 2D gesturing seen in multifunctional touch screens.  We suspect that this is one of the ways in which consumers will first encounter gestural recognition in a fully realized form.

Gestures moving beyond the nerd market. Gesture recognition is moving into applications beyond VR and gaming enabling the opportunity for manufacturers of sensors, cameras, etc. to grow. Gamers represent an enthusiastic but limited market. The real opportunities for components and subsystems makers will appear once gestural recognition moves beyond toys and specialized military markets

Optics comes first.  We are already seeing gesture recognition creep into consumer electronics, especially in smart phones.  Early versions have not been as impressive as they could be, however. NanoMarkets therefore sees a real opportunity for component suppliers to introduce and sell novel gesture-oriented devices.  Most of the early successes are going to be found in primarily optical systems—those based on cameras and image sensors.  But there are already gestural technologies that supposedly can provide high-performance gestural recognition and control using sub-systems other than optical ones

Gesture recognition entering new markets.  NanoMarkets believes we will soon be seeing touchless gesturing in a much greater range of applications, from improving factory automation to providing a safer way for drivers to control the vast array of electronic devices in their cars. The “home of the future,” may very well contain multiple built-in devices activated by gesture. Touchless gesturing is especially compelling for wearable devices like smart watches, for which producing a usable touch screen in such a small form factor is a huge challenge.

We think that these trends will (1) pump up the volume of components required for the gesture recognition space and (2) require new kinds of components and subsystems with high value-added and protectable IP.  Both (1) and (2) will add to the profit potential of firms active in the gesture recognition space and can be sure to drag more firms into it.  

At present much of the activity that constitutes these trends is just R&D stage, but in some cases there are real next-generation gestural control products ready to sell either now or within the next year.  NanoMarkets believes that there are three industry sectors that are going to make money as a result of the rise of gestural recognition:

  • The sensors industry, especially those sectors that can specifically design products for gesture recognition
  • Optical subsystems and components makers, especially companies that offers low-cost/lightweight cameras and appropriate lenses
  • The semiconductor industry, both that part making discrete components and that making ICs

In order for consumers in any market segment to embrace gesturing it has to be easy to use, seamless, reliable, and offer significant advantages over existing user interfaces. Despite multiple attempts, the industry is not yet there. NanoMarkets believes that a lack of component integration and infrastructure is part of this problem.  Systems also aren’t as intuitive as promised, leaving users in some cases disappointed and running back to familiar touch screens

Gestural Recognition and the Camera Industry

Optical systems are still the most common solution for gesture recognition, and likely to stay that way for some time to come, even though other types of gestural recognition and control systems are coming onto the market:

Gesture recognition is here now.  Controllers that use multiple cameras have been around for several years. For example, Microsoft’s Kinect includes a color video camera and a depth sensor camera to detect 3D motion. The Leap Motion controller contains two infrared cameras with embedded image sensors.

Cameras are critical to the current generation of gesture recognition. There is typically something in the system to “see” the gesture.  The roadmap here is very similar to the sensor space, and after all, cameras can be thought of as a special form of sensor.

Most existing gesture recognition systems boast software-only solutions that make use of hardware that is already integrated into devices. One obvious example is optical detection using the camera installed in a smart phone or laptop. Such systems do demonstrate gesture recognition ability, but they have several significant limitations.

Second generation cameras and system integration:  The first wave of optical gesture recognition systems make use of standard 2D cameras, but systems will increasingly incorporate more advanced cameras for full 3D rendering. The most effective systems will combine cameras and multiple sensors for increased accuracy and a wider library of recognized gestures.

NanoMarkets believes that these more advanced trends are not going to develop into large money-making opportunities for several years.  But the next steps which are beginning to happen will accelerate in coming years:

Multiple cameras in tablets and laptops.  The integration of multiple cameras into devices such as tablets and laptops for seamless gesture recognition without the need for a separate controller could push up the volume of cameras.

Cameras for professional gesture recognition.  However, consumer electronics will not be where we will see the highest performing cameras. Expensive solutions like time-of-flight cameras are probably not very compelling here. Lightning-fast response speeds and detailed accuracy are more important in industries where safety is paramount, including automotive, healthcare, and industrial. This is where more complex cameras and sensors may be successful.

Beyond optical systems. Optical systems are still the most common solution for gesture recognition, but other (non-optical) gesture recognition technologies promise (1) better accuracy, (2) lower power consumption and/or (3) the ability to work equally well under various lighting conditions; something that has plagued existing optical systems.  Some of the most promising non-optical approaches detect disturbances in sound waves or electrical fields and use those data to interpret gestures.

The extent to which non-optical technologies take hold makes a great deal of difference to suppliers of components and components since the hardware requirements differ greatly from one technology to another. For example, ultrasonic systems rely on speakers and microphones, not on cameras. Sensor requirements vary depending on the type of gesture recognition technology.

Several companies are betting their futures on acceptance of approaches other than optical gesture recognition. To hear them tell it, their approach is superior to optical technology, but the market might not necessarily agree. And with companies like Intel and Google promoting camera-based systems, it might be hard for smaller firms with other approaches to make themselves heard.

Sensor Makers Responding to Gestural Recognition

Sensor makers and OEMs are just beginning to address enhanced gestural recognition, but are doing so primarily with off-the-shelf sensors.  In fact, many sensor makers may be barely aware that their devices are being used in gestural systems.

While this off-the-shelf approach may be a good place to start, it is obviously not conducive to high margins.  NanoMarkets believes that sensor makers will quickly adopt gestural recognition as a key opportunity within the context of emerging wearable and Internet-of-Things (IoT) businesses, especially once important OEMs focus publicly on gestural recognition.  We think that sensor makers will also receive a push in the “right” direction from certain software makers.

Moving beyond the existing sensors:  As we have already noted, the current generations of gestural recognition often make use of the existing sensors and other hardware that are currently out there. This is implicitly inadequate and some of the opportunities that seem to present themselves with regard to sensors include the following:

New photodetectors. A new class of photodetectors for gestural recognition may be required.  Gesture recognition doesn’t always work well using existing sensors when the ambient lighting is too bright or too dim. 

Improved power consumption. Better power consumption for sensors.  While this is an opportunity that extends well beyond the needs of gestural recognition, gestural recognition can be especially power hungry and can drain the battery in mobile batteries

Additional functionality for sensors.  A broader range of sensors and ones with more sensitivity will be required for advanced gestural recognition systems.  The library of allowed gestures is limited, and detection accuracy leaves much to be desired.

At the present time, what we are seeing is the sensor makers taking their first tentative steps to addressing the needs of gestural control and related markets. These firms understand that the volumes of sensors sold in these markets could be huge, but they aren’t yet sufficiently convinced to aggressively go after these markets. It may take a few years before this happens.  Sensors do add cost, of course, and require OEMs to change their manufacturing flow to incorporate them.

Other Opportunities

As the gestural recognition business emerges and becomes mainstream NanoMarkets believes that it will be increasingly seen as an opportunity for industry sectors beyond sensors and cameras. 

Software and sensors.  Gestural recognition software companies are already recognizing that that deficiencies in hardware are posing limitations on what their software can do.

Software relies on sensors that can accurately detect motion and distinguish between purposeful and accidental gestures, and we think that, as a result, software companies will partner with sensor suppliers to ensure that the sensors makers will deliver what’s needed.

Implications for the semiconductor industry:   Semiconductor firms stand to benefit from the growth in gesture recognition as they come out with products that are specifically designed for such applications. Solutions need to fill the need for components that are small, light, and can be easily integrated into devices. For example there is definitely a market for components that combine microcontrollers with sensors in a single package.

Sensor fusion represents another opportunity for both the sensor makers and the semiconductor industry. With the proliferation of devices that have multiple sensors of different types built in comes the challenge of how to handle the data sensors are collecting and how to get the various sensors to communicate with each other. Microcontrollers, microprocessors, or the sensors themselves can accomplish this fusing of the incoming data.

Companies that can provide sensor fusion solutions that are seamless and balance the tradeoffs between cost and power consumption in gestural recognition systems have.  We believe that this is an area that encourages the development of business ecosystems where sensor firms participate in tight alliances with software and semiconductor firms.

Evolving Strategies: Surveying the Landscape of Smart Grid Sensor Companies
Published: September 22, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics Smart Technology

"Smart grids" promise to solve many challenges facing today's electric grid infrastructures by providing better insights to, and enabling actions to address, areas that are key to maintaining grid health and stability at all levels, from generation to transmission & distribution to end-use. These will depend upon real-time collection and communication of a wide range of data throughout the grid, from measuring voltage and inductance levels in the T&D network, to time synchronization and equipment temperatures at substations, to smart meters and energy conservation in homes and businesses. Our recent report on this subject identified specific markets and opportunities for all these multiple sensing, monitoring, and control functions. 

As in any evolving market, NanoMarkets expect to see increased consolidation and M&A activity at the intersections of smart grid & sensor functionalities -- smart metering, outage management systems, SCADA, data computing & analytics, and feeder automation -- as these proliferate within the broader evolution of the Internet-of-Things (IoT). This is especially likely as broad sensor manufacturers show keen interest in developing sensing solutions for smart grid applications, and as established companies from tangential industries (AT&T and Google, for example) seek to extend their reach into smart grids. At the same time, we also expect these advanced sensor technologies will expand the addressable market base, as suppliers seek avenues to cross-sell their products into other industries such as water, gas, transportation, and telecom.

In SCADA, for example, we see big players such as GE, Siemens, Alstom, and ABB concentrating on sensor opportunities that will give them an edge in the next generation of SCADA deployments. Toshiba, though a new player in SCADA, may also shake up the market with its end-to-end SCADA and distribution automation systems. Another notable trend is the arrival of new entrants bringing in their new technologies and taking away the share from traditional sensor suppliers, especially in the feeder line sensor and transformer monitoring markets.

Ten Smart Grid Sensor Companies to Watch

In our report, we examine a number of companies that are currently working at the intersection of smart grids and sensing capabilities & applications. Here's a snapshot of some of the leading firms' technologies and strategies in smart grids & sensors.

ABB

ABB has been active in products and projects for the smart grid, including associating with utilities. Among its activities include a joint development project with Fortum to design and install Europe’s first large-scale urban smart grid (at the Stockholm Royal Seaport). It also has been associated with Italian utility ACEA (Azienda Comunale Elettricità e Acque). Beyond its strong base in Europe and North America, ABB has a good presence in Asian markets such as China and India.

GE/Alstom

Separately they were already coming at the smart grid: GE in pretty much all areas (focusing on equipment monitoring, demand response, and distributions management systems), with Alstom strong in substation automation and network management products (agile protection relays, GPS time synchronization clocks, and intelligent fault detectors and analyzers). As with any large M&A, it will be interesting to see how product integration ultimately evolves and overlaps are mitigated (Alstom's e-terra and GE's PowerOn Fusion are essentially same products targeting the similar markets); but we expect GE may narrow its focus on demand response and network management solutions, allowing Alstom to continue to strengthen its substation and T&D products.

Siemens

Siemens' product range, as applied to smart grid applications, is strong in substation automation and equipment monitoring segments. Its participation in EU-funded multisensor research projects for building management and mobile applications could be a sign of its entry into the home automation market.

Schneider Electric

Schneider’s products help utilities manage grid revenue, power quality, and substation automation applications. Smart meters is a target market both with its PowerLogic offering and the firm's acquisition of solutions provider Televent (smart metering and distribution network management). Further, the firm's Intelligent Loop Automation reduces outage restoration time and costs.

Landis & Gyr

Earlier this year Landis & Gyr bought PowerSense, a small sensor firm spun out of Danish power utility Dong Energy a decade ago, which offers supervision and control systems for power distribution, including patented optical-based medium-voltage sensors for power cables, transformers, switch gear, and substations. It also pledged to acquire utility analytics company GRIDiant, whose technology correlates data from the smart grid network with other enterprise data, to bolster its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and distribution grid management offerings.

Toshiba

Though a new player in SCADA, Toshiba could well shake up the market with its advanced SCADA and EMS products, already having provided these to over 400 companies worldwide. It also is one of few firms to hold a high number of smart grid patents, and thus establish a broad base to improve on these technologies. Toshiba is working on a Micro Energy Management System (μEMS) eyeing the smart grid (Landis+Gyr is also involved in this project).

Eaton/Cooper Industries

Eaton’s acquisition of Cooper Industries in 2012 strengthened its products in power systems and the smart grid. Like others in this list, has partnered with utilities in smart grid demonstration projects, such as Portland General Electric’s Smart Grid Demonstration Project for which it is developing solutions to integrate renewable energy sources and demand-response.

Itron

Itron, an established player in smart metering, recently bundled its existing industry-leading capabilities in metering, communications, and data management into a single product offering called Itron Total, aiming to simplify the metering and Smart Grid monitoring process -- potentially setting into motion a trend of manufacturing products that simplify, and not just perform, advanced metering and monitoring of Smart Grids. The company also leverages collaborations to enhance its product portfolio as well as taken its sensing systems to real-world applications; for example, EV charging partner ClipperCreek sells charging stations embedded with Itron revenue-grade metering hardware. Itron and Grid20/20 have collaborated to provide utilities with access to critical distribution optimization information to improve grid efficiencies.

Google

Nest Lab’s flagship thermostat product, which learns a user’s habits over time and adjusts the home temperature accordingly, is already being used by roughly 1% of U.S. households. The company also has products to detect smoke and CO2. Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest clearly shows Google's broad interest in the Internet of Things, and more specifically in smart grid and home automation.

Lutron

Lutron’s range of products in energy conservation and home automation makes it a significant player in building energy management and demand response markets. The company has been associating with Siemens for developing building energy management solutions.

Moving Out, Moving In

Note that the "smart grid" has been a promised land for some time, especially in the gaze of grid networking companies. However, not everyone has the patience to align their technologies and strategies with this nascent market.

A few weeks ago Echelon sold its decade-old smart grid business, Networked Energy Services, to Austrian IT services provider S&T as it seeks greener pastures in the "Industrial Internet" portion of the IoT. Toward that end it also just acquired Lumewave, a maker of outdoor lighting controls and software, to bolster its own powerline carrier technology, ultimately strategizing to hook back into its building automation controls. (The smart-meter to smart-streetlight pathway is well trod: Silver Spring Networks has projects for networked streetlights in Europe, and ABB and Sensus have separate projects here in the U.S in California and Tennessee, respectively.)

And Ambient, which provides power quality monitoring and communications, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company once had a major project with Duke Energy but reportedly has had difficulty following that up with other successes, though it is piloting a smart grid integration project with ConEd in New York. The company also could be a M&A prize, as it owns several dozen patents related to smart grids (more than a dozen in communication alone). Interestingly, Ambient has a stalking-horse arrangement with Ericsson, meaning the telecom behemoth could acquire it for $7.5 million if no other competing bids are received.

At the same time, electronics big-box chain Best Buy wants to get into the home automation game. It recently inked a partnership to sell Peq "smart home" services that connect various gadgets to a wireless ZigBee hub, touting benefits from energy savings (automated lighting and thermostat adjustments) to home security (sensors on doors and windows).

Powering the Internet of Things: New Technologies for New Markets
Published: September 18, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics

The Internet-of-Things (IoT), a proliferation of multitudes of interconnected sensors and processors, is arguably the most disruptive shift in technology since the origination of the Internet itself. It's a complex universe spanning communications, identification, location tracking, and security, enabled by multitudes of electronic equipment & devices and sensors.

Several technology advancements have been driving the IoT. The brains of these devices (embedded chips) are becoming more sophisticated and cheaper, as have reliable communications capabilities. Another reason: cloud storage for data and applications. And as the IoT expands, there are huge new opportunities for manufacturers of power source devices to make it all run.

Why Conventional Batteries Won't Work in the IoT

Let's look at the key criteria that are pretty common to the various types of IoT devices and functionalities:

-    Various shapes and sizes
-    Low power requirements
-    High range and frequency
-    Increasingly interconnected

To align with those criteria, power sources for IoT devices will need several key features of their own:

-    Small/thin size and flexible shape
-    Wireless connectivity -- able to charge a device on the go, easy to use anywhere
-    Able to detect and select available energy resources (for wireless charging)
-    Self-recharging, never needing to be replaced, with lifetime comparable to the device they're in
-    Environmentally friendly, since IoT devices are used everywhere in all environments.

Consider this: the energy density of the lithium-ion battery in Apple's iPhone 5 is 142 mAh/cm3. That's 63% higher than conventional Li-ion batteries from nine years ago, and is far outpacing the ~5%/year energy density rate for Li-ion batteries. For all IoT devices including and beyond smartphones, future power source requirements -- rigid use (cycle life, specific energy and power), high tolerance capacity, flexibility (including wearability) -- don't bode well for bulky conventional batteries.

IoT Power Source Alternatives

Conventional batteries can't meet those IoT power-source requirements in most cases -- but other power sources can.

Inductive power supplies: Basically this involves wirelessly transferring energy from one device (transmitter or charging station) to another (receiver or portable device). Wireless charging was initially introduced for smartphones and still revolves around this utility; by the end of this year nearly all smartphones and tablets are expected to support it. Other inductive power applications include transcutaneous energy transfer systems in surgically implanted devices (e.g. artificial hearts) and environment-monitoring robots.

Inductive coupling is typically used to power RFID tags (IoT and RFID have common origins and extensive overlap). Such "passive" battery-free RFID sensor tags have an "on-demand" reliable source of energy, with no dependence on environmental conditions for the sensor to transmit data. They can be embedded in concrete (e.g. walls and pillars), inside piping systems, sealed within enclosures, and at many relatively inaccessible locations -- and they will never require battery-change maintenance.

With increasingly vast numbers of wirelessly connected IoT devices, the technology to power them is likely will evolve from inductive to resonant -- and from charging one device at a time to charging multiple devices concurrently. This could open up a myriad of IoT applications from smartphones to smart cars.

Thin-film and printed batteries: Thin-film batteries are being considered for, and even replacing conventional batteries in, several IoT applications such as smartphones, sensors, RFID tags, and smart cards and labels (including "smart packaging for food and medicine). Printed batteries are somewhat further away from commercial deployment for IoT applications such as electronic shelf labels and "smart shelves," though there are some efforts to bring products to the market. 3D printing of microbatteries is one intriguing area of research, with batteries as small as a grain of sand; another is in combining thin-film material layers and coatings with textiles.

Energy harvesting: This is arguably the most important sector for powering IoT devices, encompassing several technologies to facilitate ambient energy conversion and storage: PV solar cells, piezoelectric, thermoelectric, pyroelectric, geo-magnetic, electrostatic, and microwave conversion. The varying nature of ambient energy sources also means IoT wireless sensor nodes require microbatteries as backup energy sources, rechargeable once the nodes have harvested enough ambient energy.

Where IoT Power Sources Must Improve

Power source options for IoT devices currently have a number of hurdles to overcome:

Power efficiency: Technology for inductive and energy harvesting falls short of conventional wired charging in terms of power transfer efficiency, roughly 70% vs. 85%. That means it's significantly slower to charge a device, and/or requires tradeoffs in size and cost to close that gap.

Range: For wireless power (inductive/resonant coupling or energy harvesting), the range to devices must cover at least an entire room, and eventually a house.

Frequency choice: Selecting frequency to be compatible with charging standards around electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility has been an issue for wireless charging technology.

Standards compliance and security: There are more than a dozen types of wireless communication technologies woven together to support the Internet of Things. Broad adoption of wireless charging will require standards compliance across several areas: frequency, induced electric field, induced current density, and specific absorption rate. This is a major issue, solvable by integrating them all into a single standard -- which also will solve security issues. 

Between the most ubiquitous of those wireless technologies -- Bluetooth, WiFi, and ZigBee -- we see ZigBee expanding as the preferred protocol for IoT devices in terms of cost and efficiency.

Cost: Nearly all the devices in the IoT are small and low-cost, therefore so must be their power sources. Conventional chargers are generally provided with devices at no extra cost (or at least a transparent one), but wireless chargers generally come extra at cost, and often it's substantial (think $50 or more). Even thin-film and energy-harvesting batteries come at a higher cost than conventional power supplies.

Basically, two things need to happen for these power source technologies to usurp conventional batteries and take over the IoT: deliver better efficiency at lower cost, and create/adopt a wireless charging standard common for all devices and charging ports. If those happen, and limitations of these alternate power sources are overcome, then we see these technologies becoming dominant to power IoT devices.

By the Numbers: The Evolution of IoT Power Source Markets

IoT power-source technologies such as thin-film and printed batteries, energy harvesting modules, small flexible solar photovoltaic panels, and thermoelectric sources have enjoyed niche success and marginal revenues up to now. With the IoT’s emergence, however, NanoMarkets sees these products potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues.

Thin-film and printed batteries make up the vast majority of today's total $57.1 million market for IoT power sources. Most of that is for mobile phones, considered the "eyes and ears" of applications connecting all the other IoT devices and networks, and mobile phones will continue to represent the main IoT application for these batteries. However, we anticipate several other applications -- notably smart cards, semiconductor/computing, and wearable electronics -- each will blossom into hundred-million-dollar battery markets by the end of this decade.

Beyond batteries, NanoMarkets sees the biggest growth opportunities over the next several years in IoT power sources addressed by inductive and energy harvesting technologies. Inductive power sources, almost exclusively used in wireless chargers, are barely a $5 million market today, but we look for this segment to crack the $100 million mark by 2018 and accelerate to $760 million by 2021. This is largely due to adoption in RFID tags, a segment that will surge to a $100 million market by 2019 and $583 million by 2021.

We see energy harvesting power sources remaining a small ($7 million) market through 2015, but then spiking to $41.5 million in 2016 thanks to rapid uptake for sensors/sensor networks. From there we see energy harvesting devices really establishing their IoT stride, to $161 million by 2018 and ultimately $557 million by 2021. Within that period we also anticipate the long-awaited arrival of wearable devices, ramping from next to nothing today to $82 million 2018 and a $200 million market by 2021.

Handicapping the field: How Next-Generation Solar PV Materials Will Emerge Into the Market
Published: September 08, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

The solar panel industry now seems back on track following the boom-and-bust period. It's still a sector dominated by crystalline silicon, but the current upswing means that the search is on once more for materials platforms that improve the conversion efficiency of solar panels, and efforts have been rebooted to hone and ultimately commercialize these next-generation materials.

Some of them are close at hand, such as novel approaches to doping silicon panels. Meanwhile, the thin-film PV sector continues to seek success against entrenched c-Si; this could come from improvements to CdTe and CIGS, while other thin-film materials are beginning to receive serious commercial attention. The solar industry also is beginning to think out of the box with a slew of entirely new nanomaterials such as quantum dots, nanowires, nanotubes and graphene.

Here's a rundown of what we see emerging in next-gen solar PV materials:

Opportunities in Silicon Photovoltaics

The need for better c-Si technology has urged a more aggressive roadmap based on advanced c-Si technologies. Prominent ones gaining traction include n-type cells, back-contact cells, selective emitter options, wrap-through variants, and cells with rear side passivation. We anticipate a scale-up to volume production is likely to occur 2015, when investments are expected to pick up -- we currently see the materials market value for advanced c-Si racing ahead from just $16 million in 2014 to $115 million in 2016, and topping $1.5 billion by 2020.

Compared with standard and matured p-type c-Si technology, n-type Si offers better tolerance to common impurities, higher device lifetime, and lesser light-induced degradation, though further research is needed to eliminate non-uniform electrical resistivity and to come up with more effective passivation techniques for charting out a sizable, and cost-effective, production route. Among the potential n-type substrates, PERT, HJ and IBC cell architectures are likely to be investigated further. Wafer thinning (and new ultra-thin wafers), multiple-junction structures, screen printing, and ion implantation also can be routes to develop high-efficiency n-type solar cells.

Although suppliers in Taiwan, the U.S., and Europe have shown signs of adopting higher efficiency c-Si technology, greater adoption in Japan and bigger involvement of Chinese players will be significant to facilitate the migration of standard c-Si technologies to the advanced forms.

Next-generation thin-film PV

Standard thin-film PV has found it hard to compete with conventional c-Si's relentless cost cuts, pricing pressure, and efficiency improvements. Part of the answer for thin-film PV lies in multi-junction PV cells to utilize more of the available solar spectrum; other avenues include addressing markets where c-Si has disadvantages, such as certain low-light and hot outdoor environments, and in building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Given the ambitious roadmaps of the two thin-film leaders First Solar and Solar Frontier, we expect 2015 could witness active commercial developments as the cost difference between the standard C-Si and existing thin-film technologies narrows. This is especially important as the solar industry shifts toward remote and unsubsidized markets.

Various thin-film technologies are being pursued. CdTe PV cells currently pose a strong challenge to multi-Si cells in terms of efficiency, and should find acceptance in constrained spaces and other related industrial applications -- novel and cost-effective approaches for doping, back-contact formation, and printing will be key. Commercial progress with CIGS has been slow due to processing complexities and encapsulation concerns, but in terms of efficiency CIGS is now tantalizingly close to that of single-crystal PV, and new production approaches and methodologies illuminate a path to beat Si-based PV technologies in cost terms. Other emerging thin-film candidates include CZTS (a CIGS variant with a different absorber material), CdMgTe (a II-VI semiconductor alloy), and pyrites.

Collectively, NanoMarkets sees emerging thin-film PV as fledgling in the near term, cracking the $120 million barrier at the far end of our eight-year forecast window (2021).

OPV and DSC

Organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells have been the focus of much research as they are lightweight, flexible, inexpensive, highly tunable, and potentially disposable. Their main advantage is a very high absorption coefficient coupled with the use of low-cost, high-throughput manufacturing techniques (such as inkjet printing and roll-to-roll). Despite the improving performance of OPV cells, there are urgent needs to address: develop large-area monolithic panels, reduce defect density and improve yields, and devise better encapsulation systems to improve OPV module lifetime to at least 10 years.

We think OPV modules need to demonstrate closer to 8% efficiency level and 10 years of lifetime -- and ultimately module production costs to below $0.50/watt -- within the next five years’ time to be competitive in the marketplace, first in DC portable power devices followed by building integrated PV (BIPV) applications. Part of this will involve commercialization efforts through industry joint collaborative projects, and a specific OPV material-related IP ecosystem with a sea of change of newer players bringing out new materials, such as narrow optical gap photoactive polymers.

Perhaps the most excitement around solar PV materials is around perovskite, which in just a few short years has enjoyed a trajectory of efficiency improvements unlike any other solar PV material -- from breaking the 10% barrier in 2012 to 15% in 2013 and nearly 20% already this year, and likely as high as 30% before being commercially rolled out. NanoMarkets sees very important ramifications from perovskite's unprecedented trajectory for one specific market segment: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC). Several key DSC firms already have been at the forefront of the perovskite solar revolution. A great deal of research continues into perovskite materials optimization and processing techniques. We believe it is indeed possible that perovskite PV cells could quickly ramp to and beyond the 20% mark and compete against the more established Si counterparts within the next several years.

NanoMarkets sees enough positive signs from this segment of emerging PV -- OPV, DSC, and perovskite -- that we think it could begin to rival that of aforementioned advanced c-Si by the end of our forecast period, topping $1.1 billion in materials market value.

Nanomaterials for Next-generation PV

Further along the solar PV technology roadmap are a number of nanomaterials which present various attractive options, and challenges that continue to slow their development toward commercialization anytime soon:

  • Silver nanowires offer the potential to replace traditional electrode materials due to their intriguing electrical, thermal, and optical properties: an inherent low resistivity, high specular transmittance, superior flexibility, and surface plasmon resonance effect. Despite substantial progress, however, they have yet to find use in commercial use as efficient transparent electrodes that can boost energy conversion efficiency to realistic levels, still demonstrating efficiency below 10%.

  • Quantum dots are considered as one of the most attractive candidates for solar PV, thanks to inexpensive low-temperature solution processing techniques and a theoretical energy conversion efficiency of up to 45%. Actual efficiency, however, is still below 10%, so commercial viability is still a long way off -- but put another way, there's still a lot of room for improvement, including ways to pair QDs with other suitable PV materials as co-absorbers in PV cells

  • Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are gaining broad interest for their unique properties which can be used effectively for photovoltaic solar cells: easy and inexpensive to manufacture, stable and durable, and both good light absorbers and electrical conductors. CNTs have shown PV cell energy conversion efficiency of up to 80% via an efficient charge transport mechanism inside the cell, and recent advances allow greater level of control over their chemical makeup. In fact CNTs could be on track to be commercially ready before quantum dots -- but that's a relative assessment, because we feel they're still unlikely to be commercialized for PV applications anytime soon.

  • Which brings us to the ever-next-gen material, graphene, which in the case of PV applications has shown promise as absorber and photoactive layer with extreme conductivity and transparency, plus an affinity to keep its properties even after being coated with another conductive material (e.g. silicon or copper). Research initiatives around the use of graphene in PV applications have shifted from treating graphene as a substitute for ITO (in transparent electrodes) to viewing it as a potential conduction layer candidate in the next generation of PV cells. There is a possibility of using it in combination with titanium dioxide as a charge collector, keeping perovskite material as the sunlight absorber in PV cells. Under such an arrangement, cell efficiency of 15.6% has been achieved.

Where Sensors Will Rule the Smart Grid
Published: August 20, 2014 Category: Smart Technology

Today's electric grid infrastructure faces a number of challenges: a centralized communication system that lacks interoperability, inaccurate management systems, and inefficient operations and maintenance processes, all of which are increasingly costly and hamper efforts to maintain grid reliability. This is even before introducing more renewable energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles into the equation.

"Smart grids" promise to solve many of these problems by enabling broad knowledge and control of operations at all levels, from generation to transmission & distribution to end-use, to help better understand and take action regarding areas that are key to maintaining grid health and stability. These will depend upon real-time collection and communication of a wide range of data throughout the grid. Examples include measuring voltage and inductance levels in the T&D network, time synchronization and equipment temperatures at substations, and smart meters and energy conservation in homes and businesses.

All these multiple sensing, monitoring, and control functions will translate into enormous opportunities for various types of sensors. Below are some of the specific market opportunities NanoMarkets anticipates -- some of which need more time to be available or become reliable.

Note that the proliferation of sensors and sensor-enabled capabilities into smart grids will lead to increased consolidation and M&A activity in the sectors around them: e.g., smart metering, outage management systems, SCADA, data computing & analytics, and feeder automation. This is especially likely as broad sensor manufacturers show keen interest in developing sensing solutions for smart grid applications. Moreover, advanced sensor technologies also will expand the addressable market base for smart grid sensors, with suppliers seeking avenues to cross-sell their products into other industries such as water, gas, transportation, and telecom.

Sensors in grid management applications

- Advanced/next-generation SCADA: This is a growing need in both the generation and distribution sectors. On the generation side, sensors enable higher efficiency baseload operation of thermal power plants through improved process control, heat rate improvements, and turbine and generator efficiency. Meanwhile, complexity in distribution, especially in dense urban areas, is driving the need for next-generation SCADA systems that can monitor the health and safety of transmission lines and circuit breakers. These include various combinations of sensors to measure voltage, current, capacitance, chemical, gas, humidity, moisture, temperature, time synchronization, and intelligent electronic devices (IED). Wireless sensor networks (WSN) will be the future technology of evolved SCADA networks, possibly replacing the remote terminal units (RTU) in conventional systems.

- Outage management: Integrating smart sensors with current fault monitoring circuits provides more reliable and accurate monitoring of, and response to, outages along the grid. Sensors here can provide real-time critical system information, often inductively powered using batteries or energy harvesting systems.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has become an essential part of smart grids for monitoring metering activities and controlling excessive power outage problems. Sensors connected to AMI also can detect air quality, and automatically send warnings to nearby cellular devices. We see AMI sensors in wireless sensing deployments gaining a lot of interest in smart grid activities, particularly "Smart City" projects in both developed and developing countries. Examples include "intelligent" streetlights with environmental sensors to monitor air and traffic flow. We expect to see good progress in technology standardization, plug-and-play interoperable devices, and M2M communication protocols.

- Synchrophasors: Measured by phasor measurement units (PMU), these give a better indication of grid stresses so grid operators can prescribe corrective actions, or even initiate automated actions. Cost has been a limiting factor in PMU adoption, but we expect costs to come down as demand for the devices and their functionality increases. As synchrophasors are incorporated on a large scale, wide area management systems (WAMs) in transmission infrastructure represent immediate and near-term opportunities. Specific sensors here address time synchronization, voltage, data analytics, and decision making.

- Power quality: Sensors allow distribution network operators and large users of electrical power to record vital information regarding power quality, more efficiently and less costly than conventional methods such as power quality analyzers or temporary monitoring. Power quality management (PQM) sensors in a smart grid need to sense voltage fluctuations, unbalanced phase voltages, and harmonic disturbances in the power grid.

- Distribution automation: As traditional electricity distribution migrates to automated systems, there is an immediate need for sensors used in areas such as substation automation, feeder automation, and load balancing. NanoMarkets expects that smart sensors will be deployed as an indispensable part of distribution automation systems. We especially see significant opportunities for smart grid sensors in feeder lines and transformer monitoring.

- Asset monitoring and control: Sensors play a key role in identifying and locating faults on a power line, measuring and recording vital parameters of the power line such as current and conductor temperature. They also can be configured to provide periodic measurements to facilitate improved situational awareness and operations. Smart monitoring features also can be applied to circuit breakers, turning them into basic alarms for SCADA by adding external sensors to monitor key parameters (pressure, leakage current, temperature, and SF6 gas) of the switchgear.

Increased complexity in supply chains and increased deployment of electrical equipment require effective asset management programs. Real-time monitoring of critical equipment is gaining importance over cumbersome documentation and physical verification. Sensor types include time synchronization, voltage, current, weather, temperature, and humidity.

Sensors in demand-side applications

- Demand response: Present grid systems depend on manual load shedding to maintain grid reliability during emergency situations. Opportunities are huge for sensors in demand response. These involve home area networks to monitor various equipment, including smart meters and new "smart appliances" that are arriving on the market, embedded with wireless technology to extend device control even deeper into the home. Building codes and standards also are evolving to cover demand response.

- Building energy efficiency: With the evolution of energy conservation and building codes, there is a huge opportunity for sensors to monitor and manage energy efficiency in commercial/industrial buildings. These sensors will be networked, operating in the "Internet of Things" and accessible via the web and mobile devices for optimum performance. Sensors can be used to augment facilities automation and energy efficiency programs, e.g. tied to changing from CFL to LED lighting (timers, dimmers and photo sensors), streamlining operation of motors and pumps (speed control, temperature, Hall-effect sensors, etc.), and energy conservation programs (infrared and occupancy sensors).

- Smart meters: In consumer homes, smart meter technology is advancing rapidly with increased complexity, with a heavy reliance on sensor functionalities to make them smarter, more robust, and less costly. These include several types of sensors to enable new functions such as tamper detection, switchable operating modes, and PCB temperature sensing. NanoMarkets expects to see exponential growth in consumer demand for remote energy control in the form of sensing systems.

Emerging applications for sensors in smart grids

- Renewable energy integration: Installed power capacity of solar and wind power farms is more than 300 GW as of 2014, with tens of thousands of worldwide power generating sites, each of which could be upgraded (or designed from the outset) to incorporate dozens of smart sensors. Energy generation from varied resources, especially renewable energy, will be managed by advanced sensors for data monitoring and algorithms. Examples include LIDAR, SODAR, sky cameras, and imagers to help forecast power output; as well as sensors to monitor voltage, current, phasor measurement, and capacitance and inductance.

- Electric vehicles: Similar to the case of renewable energy integration, the present grid has to manage the increasing popularity of electric/hybrid vehicles (EV) and their varying charging demands. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) during peak load times require more grid-interactive vehicles, and the establishment of a charging grid infrastructure with appropriately defined standards. We see a growing demand for accurate measurements that can be only fulfilled by high-quality sensors to monitor various EV functions: battery, voltage & current, safety systems, automotive performance, and humidity/air quality/temperature.

- Microgrids: Microgrids require large numbers of sensors (more than 50,000 per grid in some big microgrids) for monitoring functions, sensing frequency and voltage disturbances and seamlessly connecting and disconnecting microgrids with the grids. Examples include controllers, frequency and voltage sensors, and communicable relay controls.

- Energy storage: Sensors for energy storage are in an early stage of deployment as energy storage systems are still too costly for wide deployment. Ultimately, energy storage systems will require a wide range of sensors for asset monitoring, current, temperature, discharge rate, load leveling and sensors for synchronized operation with the grid.

How OLED Lighting Could “Save” the OLED Industry
Published: August 19, 2014 Category: OLEDs
Ever since LCD displays came to dominate the living room, the desktop and mobile communications, new technologies claiming superiority over LCD have made their pitches.  Most have failed. Plasma displays (PDPs) and electrophoretic displays (EPDs) made waves for a while, but (at best) have become niche technologies.
 
By contrast, OLEDs have made market inroads, but their success has mainly been on the supply side where Samsung – a force to be reckoned with in the mobile phone space – has adopted OLEDs as its primary mobile display technology. NanoMarkets can, however, find little evidence that consumers themselves are jumping up and down with excitement about OLEDs. 
 
So the big question for the OLED makers is whether (1) OLEDs will go the way of PDPs and EPDs or if (2) there is something genuinely new and exciting to be had in OLED technology.  NanoMarkets is firmly in the second camp and thinks that the OLED sector will generate $3.7 billion in materials alone by 2019. OLEDs are not only a display technology but also a lighting technology, and this “dual-use” aspect of OLEDs will ultimately “save” OLEDs from the fate of PDPs and EPDs.
 
How OLED Displays Fail to Compete
NanoMarkets continues to believe that the unwavering support of Samsung will prove critical in determining the long-term success of OLEDs.  And we note also that Samsung is not alone.  Other firms have made substantial investments in OLED mobile displays – AUO obviously springs to mind, although Samsung remains the big guy on the block.  Most observers expect Chinese firms to be a force to reckoned with in the OLED space and Chinese firms, BOE and Visionox, are already making their presence felt.
 
However, for this level of support to continue or increase, OLED display makers will have to see some of the purported advantages of OLEDs quickly become market realities.  To date progress in this regard has been equivocal.  Consider where OLEDs are today both in terms of consumer acceptance and their appeal to the display industry.
 
OLEDs and the consumer pitch:  NanoMarkets’ sense of the market is that the OLED display industry’s messaging to consumers hasn’t quite worked:
  • The next iPhone (sans OLEDs) will surely attract long lines outside Apple stores.  There will be no queuing for the next Samsung AMOLED phone; if there are lines, it won’t be because of the AMOLEDs. 
  • A few years back, when AMOLEDs first became widely used in cell phones there was a PR surge touting the thinness and vibrant colors of OLED displays. NanoMarkets impression is that this did not win the hearts and minds of large numbers of purchasers.
  • OLED TVs, despite recent price reductions (they are down to about $3,500) don’t seem to be selling well either.  They are not well positioned to compete against what an LCD 4K system can offer. 
  • NanoMarkets is impressed technically with the latest transparent and flexible OLEDs, but it is going to take some marketing genius to transform these into a viable mass-market product.  For example, so far what can be done with a flexible display – miniature readouts on the side of the phone, or curved form factors, for example – don’t seem likely to create a new generation of mobile communications, just mere novelties.
Costs and engineering: NanoMarkets believes that once the first onslaught of active matrix OLEDs failed to produce a big consumer response, OLED makers turned their attention to cost and engineering advantage; benefits that can be proven objectively unlike the aesthetic appeal of OLEDs to consumers.
 
At present, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the engineering/cost advantages are what are supposed to increase the market share of OLEDs going forward.  The intrinsic cost benefits associated with OLEDs including (1) no need for backlights and (2) potential for solution processing, which is less costly than vapor deposition.
 
We think that claims of such engineering/cost benefits are convincing in abstract terms, but they certainly have yet to make a dramatic difference. Consider: 
  • Are OLED phones that much lower in price or that much more profitable than LCD phones? 
  • And after many years of talk, solution processed OLEDs are still just getting going.  NanoMarkets’ latest market research suggest that today 98 percent of OLEDs are still vapor deposited and that this ratio will still be around 80 percent by 2019.  So while the advantages of solution processing are obvious to most observers, no insiders really expect solution processing to make its impact felt fast.
What we will need to see happen here is manufacturing innovation from the OLED makers themselves.  Samsung would be the obvious place to look for this, but we think LG may ultimately play an important role.  Efforts by the materials manufacturers will also be important – UDC immediately springs to mind here, but we should also remember that some very big Asian and European specialty chem firm produce OLED materials.  These firms include Idemitsu Kosan, Nippon Steel, Sumitomo Chemical and Mitsubishi Chemical
 
OLED Lighting as a Driver for the OLED Display Industry
 
Looking at the analysis above, it is hard to resist the conclusion that OLED technology has much going for it, but if it were not for the powerful backing of Samsung might not be doing that well in the marketplace.  In the display market there were CRTs then there were LCDs.  Other display technologies – despite some positives – haven’t survived for long. One might easily become convinced that OLEDs – sans Samsung -- would be headed down the same path.
 
But unlike PDPs and EPDs, OLED are also a lighting technology and lighting is different.  Unlike the various technologies that have been proposed for displays, different lighting technologies have always co-existed.  Incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and LED lighting continue to be sold (incandescent bulbs are still widely sold outside of developed nations).  So a new lighting technology does not have the uphill battle that a new display technology has.
 
Given the technological diversity of the lighting space it may mean that OLEDs stand a better chance of making it in the lighting world than in the display world.  A year ago, such a statement might have seemed cavalier.  Yes, OLED lighting was available but in the form of luxury lighting.  It could cost thousands of dollars for an OLED chandelier and the chandelier would be sold only by the most exclusive retailers.  The recent image of OLED lighting has also been colored in by the fact that originally GE led to believe that moderate cost OLED lighting would be available as early as 2012.  But GE wasn’t able to carry out its promise and seems to have dropped out of the OLED lighting space.
 
Until this year, OLED lighting was in very small quantities and mostly from pilot lines.  But this has all changed since Konica Minolta announced that it was building a full-scale production line for OLED lighting with a production capacity of a million panels per month.  This a serious commitment and when one considers that LG Chem, Philips and other “tier one” electronics and lighting firms are also edging towards producing OLED lighting products in quantity, it may be that the day of OLED lighting is just around the corner
 
The point we are making here is not that OLEDs may be best suited to the lighting market, although this may also be true.  Rather, what we are saying is that OLEDs may gain a foothold in the lighting market, where the competition is not so fierce as in the display sector and this will then help OLEDs in the display sector.  We also note that OLED performance requirements are somewhat lower in the lighting space than in the display space, so the barriers to success, yet again, are lower in lighting than in displays.
 
NanoMarkets therefore foresees a scenario in which OLED lighting takes off in the lighting space which then reverberates in the form of greater success for OLED displays through displays inheriting experience curve effects in the lighting space.  We notice, in particular, that OLED office lighting will certainly provide a kinder gentler market for large panel OLEDs compared to those difficult-to-make OLED TVs.
Updating Perspectives on Alternative Transparent Conductors
Published: August 06, 2014 Category:

NanoMarkets has been covering the transparent conductor (TCs) market for just under a decade.  During that time we have observed the market’s initial excitement and subsequent disappointment in the prospects of ITO alternatives.  The technologies’ immaturity had a great deal to do with this failure but combined with the market’s unwillingness to adopt replacement solutions, significant corrections in the PV market, the resilience of LCD display technologies and the overpromising/underestimating by the vendor community resulted in what appeared to be another hype story gone bad.  

However, within the past two years we have seen alternative TCs finally emerge as a serious business opportunity.  Not only have they improved their performance compared to ITO, but they have found a fast growing application – touch-screen sensors – whose manufactures seem willing to accept alternative TCs as much more than just a “science experiment”:  In 2014 we expect that between 10-15 percent of touch-screen sensors will use alternative TCs. And, that penetration number will only grow over the coming decade.  Since touch sensing is expected to become increasingly common for displays over the same period, it seem that touch is a good place to be for alternative TCs right now.

Alternative TCs:  Flavors of the Month

At first it seemed that carbon nanotube (CNT) coatings were a viable TC alternative, but for high performance films, they turned out to be hard to make.  Then with the much-publicized rise of Cambrios, silver nanowire inks were all the rage and these turned into real shipments to real end users.  We should also note that over the period that NanoMarkets has been covering TCs there has been a flurry of interest in graphene, but this is now universally acknowledged as a futuristic TC at best.

In 2012 and 2013, metal grids started to become an important topic of discussion in the TC community.  This was partly because of the publicity that swirled around UniPixel for a while and partly because it seemed that grids, if made fine enough, was an especially simple and cost effective solution to the TC issue.  Although mesh didn’t quite take off in 2013 as expected, enough progress was made that mesh – in one form or another – could become the dominant alternative TC going forward based on what NanoMarkets is seeing today.   Also, at the present time – and based on our interviews for this report – it seems that CNTs are back on the agenda.

With this history, it is hard to resist the belief that there is an element of fashion about how the alternative TC market progresses, with each alternative TC gets its 15 minutes of fame.  There is something to this.  However, there is also surely more and NanoMarkets believes that the alternative TC business is starting from a somewhat different technological environment than it faced in 2013.

However, we would be remiss in not pointing out how much effort the competing suppliers and providers of alternative solutions are putting into the time honored tradition of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about one another.  A recurring theme during many interviews seems to be how everyone else’s technology has challenges, from moire to haze to (assumed) production yields — including conflicting results about products purchased on the market & tested in-house.

They’re back – carbon nanotubes:   There are still important companies such as Linde that plan CNT-based TCs with performance and value propositions that can beat ITO.  But it has to be admitted that the whole CNT TC research program, that at various times has involved Canatu, Dow, Eikos, Linde, Toray, and Unidym doesn’t have that much to show.

As a result for the past few years, NanoMarkets has gradually extended the timeframe within which we believe that CNT TCs could become a success.  Indeed, internally, we were wondering if CNTs were simply going to miss the TC boat entirely!  That is, we thought it possible, that by the time CNTs were good enough to provide serious competition to ITO, some other alternative TCs will be well enough established that CNT TCs might be a little too late to market.

What we are seeing now, however, is a new direction for CNT TCs.  In Asia, CNTouch, has developed a new way to create CNT films for touch-screen sensors and is already supplying these films for low-end Chinese cell phones.  Although some of the shipment data that we have heard for this company seem surprisingly high, NanoMarkets has no doubt that some CNT TC development will adopt a low-cost/lower-performance strategy in the next few years and generate some significant revenues in the meantime

Meshes march on:  The old program for CNT TCs was to produce the best of the best; a TC material that could give ITO a run for the money.  By contrast, what CNTouch has done, it seems is to come to market with a low-end TC for low-end products; Chinese white box cell phones.  Reportedly, touch-sensors using this kind of TC do not perform well. However, it seems that there is a substantial market for low-performance TCs even in the west where conductive polymers have found a niche role as TCs (although not in brand name smartphones).

For the rest of the market, NanoMarkets believes that meshes are going to continue to do well.  This is primarily because it is easy to see how manufacturers can get to an end point where they can beat ITO at its own game.  In particular, the conductivity and flexibility advantages that meshes have over ITO are intrinsic and the potential for very high transparency is also strong with metal meshes.

However, in 2014 the mesh business is something of a zoo, with a growing number of offerings in silver and copper.  Indeed, the silver nanowire products of Cambrios and Carestream and the nanosilver offering of Cima NanoTech might (at a pinch) be thought of a self-creating mesh adding to the general chaos.  With this in mind, a big open question – with many possible answers – is what mesh-like solutions will the market finally settle on.  We discuss possible scenarios for meshes of all kinds in the main body of this report.

Beyond the Touch Screen:  Solar, OLEDs, etc.

Although the points made above are true in general, most of them are made in the context of touch screens, which is where virtually all the attention for alternative TC use is directed at the present time.   This is understandable because (1) at the present point only touch sensor makers are buying alternative TCs in any quantity and (2) the use of alternative TCs for the one really large TC market – LCDs is minimal at best.  

But NanoMarkets believes that the alternative TC industry should be cautious about adopting even some of the more bullish numbers for alternative TC adoption in the touch-screen sector.  Many displays – including the largest – simply don’t need touch and there is a general movement in the industry to design TCs out.  While these facts are well known and understood, what is not much remarked on is that touch itself may not be forever – next generation gesture recognition may well have already begun to compete with touch in cell phones and tablets.  This would not be good news for TC makers.

Given this, NanoMarkets believes that alternative TC makers will within a few years have to shift their attention from touch screens to other markets.  And we see three possible opportunities here, although they all come with serious limitations.

OLEDs:  Today, for all practical purposes, all OLED displays and lighting make use of ITO.  However, there is a growing literature that suggests alternative TCs may have better mechanical and electrical properties for OLED devices.  In addition, the OLED sector – an emerging sector itself without fully mature processes – may be relatively open to adopting alternative TCs.

This is no sure thing though.  There are certainly no big signs of OLEDs using non-ITO TCs; just much talk about it over the past few years.  At the same time, large OLED displays continue to be hard to manufacture cost effectively, which seems to be damning the OLED TV business – a potential consumer of large amounts of TCs.  

Solar:   After a horrendous couple of years, the solar industry is beginning to edge back to profitability.  Solar panels have been a potential market for TCs for a number of years and are the one market where TCs are used where ITO is not dominant.

However, the need for TCs is mostly in the thin-film PV (TFPV) space which is not where the volumes or high growth potential resides so the market for TCs in the solar depends on the uncertain resurgence of the TFPV.  Secondly, the alternative TCs being used in TFPV are primarily just non-ITO, transparent conducting oxides (TCOs).  The use of the more novel TCs in solar has been few and far between.

Flexible displays:  Fully flexible displays would represent the ultimate market opportunity for alternative TCs, because ITO wouldn’t work in them in principle.  However, no such flexible displays yet exist and ITO would work well with merely curved displays, which do exist, but are just niche products.

LCDs:  Apart from a Cambrios R&D project and some casual comments from a few other suppliers the signs of the use of alternative TCs in the LCD space are negligible – just as they have been throughout the decade that NanoMarkets has been covering alternative TCs

Makers of LCD displays with their giant fabs are not likely to want to change materials and the impact on their BOMs of such a change aren’t likely to be much.   However, even a small alternative TC penetration in the LCD space would represent a large revenue source by comparison with today’s sales of alternative TCs.  NanoMarkets therefore continues to note that the adoption of an alternative TC by a major display maker – however unlikely that might be – would make a big difference.

China Looming

NanoMarkets believes that the proverbial elephant in the TC room is now China.  A year or so back, the Chinese government tried to control the indium/ITO supply chain, but has signally failed to so.  In fact the price of both Indium and ITO has been falling (It just started to climb again as this piece was being written).

It seems difficult to believe that China will ever control the ITO supply – there are just too many potential alternative sources of Indium and ITO production is still located firmly in Japan.  However, a very real possibility is that China will increasingly become the dominant consumer of TCs as the solar, OLED, touch-screen sensors and display industries increasingly shift to mainland China as the result of Chinese industrial policy.   The recent successes of O-Film, for example, also suggests the possibility that China will play a key role in the alternative TC business in the future.

What Market Movements Will Spur BIPV Growth?
Published: July 22, 2014 Category: Renewable Energy
The multimillion-dollar question about BIPV is this: what will convince customers -- architects, builders, and homeowners, even construction materials suppliers and financing entities -- to justify the extra expense in a BIPV application? Companies and organizations continue to improve and innovate around the technologies involve with building-integrated photovoltaics (PV), from new cell designs and technologies such as PERC, metal wrap-through, and "smart wire" structures, to new and improved materials from thin-film CIGS to dye-sensitized and organic PV, and the latest solar PV wonder-material perovskite. Standardization will help reduce the complexity (and thus costs) of BIPV installations; this already has made some headway in the U.K. for products such as roof tiles and shingles. These are needed progress in performance and cost reductions, but they're not enough.
 
NanoMarkets believes the answer lies in other factors to consider:
 
Multifunctional BIPV: If on-site energy generation is the only or overriding goal, c-Si panel arrays bolted onto a rooftop will beat out BIPV applications as the most economic option for the foreseeable future. What BIPV must demonstrate are other capabilities and features that go beyond energy generation, which can aid or directly result in a faster return-on-investment and justify higher costs. A multifunctional BIPV skylight or curtain wall allows a building to generate energy for 25 years, control natural day lighting, harvest ultraviolet/infrared harmful radiation, and provide acoustic and heat insulation, among other functions. Examples include semi-transparent arrays of c-Si cells that create diffused natural lighting; roofing systems with details such as flashings, capping, and roof penetration; hollow glass to provide heat and sound insulation.
 
Aesthetics and flexibility: To some customers, a typical flat rooftop array of c-Si panels simply lacks visual appeal, especially on structures with unique design emphasis such as prestige buildings. Frameless BIPV modules offer both uniformity in color, and variety in form and structure, including transparency and flexibility for curvature. Options here include thin-film CIGS and CdTe PV and thin c-Si metal foils. Dye-sensitized and organic solar cells (DSC/OPV) promise not only low-cost processing on glass and performance in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, but also can incorporate colors.
 
Monolithic integration: We note that monolithically integrated BIPV roofing, in which there's no clear distinction between the energy and roofing subsystems, still hasn't really emerged, though there are monolithically integrated modules available. Similar monolithic integration is coming for BIPV glass; products that are self-tinting, self-cleaning, and self-healing; such products, based on still-developing technologies and most notably DSC, could capture nearly half the market, NanoMarkets believes.
 
Tracking BIPV's Market Emergence
 
Overlaying the current benefits of today's BIPV systems and technologies into what works in the marketplace, here is where NanoMarkets sees the best near-term inroads:
 
"Prestige" buildings: For these higher-end buildings such as offices, BIPV glass is considered ideal for both the "image conscious” clientele and architects, to experiment with their creativity while emphasizing the "green" aspect of the buildings. The most likely areas for application of BIPV in prestige buildings include windows, roofing, and building façades.
 
Government buildings: These aren't quite considered "prestige," and appearance often isn't the most important factors. But government entities increasingly have to adjust to meet sustainability mandates, and BIPV can help meet a building's energy objectives.
 
Commercial buildings: It seems obvious to affix solar roots on flat-top commercial structures that sit baking in the sun all day. Among the growing examples are carports and gas-stations. One such BIPV example is a Southamption, U.K. project installed by PolySolar which is expected to generate more than 400 MWh of electricity over its expected 25-year lifetime. NanoMarkets tracks other applications of BIPV on buildings, such as Trony Solar's projects of glass curtain walls at the Shenzhen Nanshan Software Park, Shenzhen Institute of Building Research, and the Guangzhou TV Tower.
 
Residential: NanoMarkets sees three segments of the residential market where some BIPV can be found. In expensive high-end homes, the cost of both the hardware and installation of BIPV glass may not be an obstacle. Multi-family dwellings more or less have the same characteristics as commercial buildings, and increasingly are becoming attractive for sustainability. And there are small installations, even to the level of an owner-installed BIPV window.
 
Retrofits: While the vast majority of BIPV revenue will come new construction over the next several years, NanoMarkets predicts the burgeoning market for retrofit BIPV, building add-ons such as awnings, balconies, and additional stories, will catch up to new construction by the end of the forecasting period. In Europe, demand for BIPV lies in the retrofit market; NanoMarkets believes in a few years its market share will go up to 40%.
 
The Secret Answer Is: Zero
 
A zero-energy building (ZEB), commonly understood as an energy-efficient grid-connected building that can generate onsite green electricity, uses multiple integrated renewable sources to compensate for its energy demand. Until recently BIPV was not commonly used in ZEBs; building-applied PV systems, wind turbines, and energy-efficiency emphases such as lighting were predominant. Moreover, ZEBs typically aren't scaled up to the sizes of prestige buildings, and total area for PV on them is not as much.
 
ZEBs are fast gaining momentum, thanks in part to policy and subsidy support. In Europe, there is great enthusiasm for sustainable architecture: all new buildings must be nearly zero energy buildings (ZEBs) from the end of 2020. The R2CITIES project, for example, aims to develop and demonstrate an open, easily replicable strategy for designing, constructing, and managing large-scale district renovation projects for achieving nearly zero-energy cities; it is targeting three residential districts involves more than 57.000 m2, more than 850 dwellings and more than 1500 users, with a potential of energy consumption reduction close to 60%. Industrial partners specializing in the provision of materials are Onyx and Ezinc for BIPV applications. In the U.S., federal government buildings must reduce energy use by 30% by the year 2015. Building industry estimates suggest the number of net-zero-energy buildings across North America will double in 2014 compared to 2012. In Japan, the government wants to meet 50 percent of residential power requirements through BIPV systems, which favors the application of BIPV glass in conventional homes.
 
NanoMarkets sees the increasing number of net zero energy buildings, and regulatory support for them, as a catalyst for growth in the BIPV market, both for glass and non-glass BIPV. We project zero net-energy buildings will overtake prestige buildings by 2019 as the biggest consumer of both BIPV types. Other commercial and government buildings also will increase adoption of BIPV products, making this segment the second-highest revenue generating market for BIPVs. Residential buildings will start growing fast as the BIPV manufacturers start offering cheaper products.
Translating CIGS Efficiency Improvements Into Market Opportunity
Published: July 21, 2014 Category: Renewable Energy
Any PV technology that hopes to compete with c-Si in today’s solar energy world must solve several problems: raise conversion efficiencies to around those of silicon-based cells (at least 20 percent), lower costs below that of c-Si (roughly $0.40-$0.50/Watt), or find specific niche markets where an alternative PV technology's features and capabilities are an acceptable tradeoff for lower cost/performance, such as flexibility.
 
In the past few months, the thin-film CIGS sector has made impressive progress in solving part of that equation. It's eclipsed the top efficiency mark of polysilicon-based cells (20.4 percent), and hasn't looked back:
 
  • Solar Frontier reached 20.9 percent efficiency on a 0.5 x 0.5cm cell in April. That's just a tick above the previous CIGS PV record (20.8 percent) achieved last October by the Center for Solar Energy at Baden-Wurttemberg (ZSW), and it's also a record for single-junction thin-film PV.
  • Hanergy's Solibro unit hit 20.5 percent efficiency in the lab in April, adding nearly a full percent to its 19.6 percent mark reached in December. Last October Hanergy also achieved 15.5 percent for commercially available glass PV modules built with technology from Miasole, another of its recent CIGS acquisitions.
  • In May, CIGS tool manufacturer Midsummer touted 16.2 percent (aperture area) for full-size 156 x 156 cm solar cells, and notably in implementation in a production line.
  • In February, Stion claimed it built a prototype 23.2 percent cell (20 x 20 cm) for its tandem-junction technology, eyeing monolithic modules with efficiency around 20-22 percent.
  • Siva Power announced an 18.8 percent efficient module also in February, just 10 months into its repositioning into a CIGS company.
  • And yet again in February – a busy month -- Avancis reported a 16.6 percent efficient CIGS module (aperture area, not "total area") on a 30x30 cm module.
Generally speaking, the higher CIGS efficiencies go, the more market opportunities open up, bringing CIGS closer to competing with c-Si (and better than other thin-film PV) on a number of fronts. With these Gen II thin-film CIGS versions, NanoMarkets projects CIGS on a path to equivalence with c-Si efficiencies by 2018-2019, at which point the question will no longer about efficiency, but purely price/value — and CIGS should be able to beat c-Si as it ramps to volume, due to far lower absorber material usage.
 
Flexible CIGS and BIPV
 
While progressively solving that higher efficiency/lower cost riddle, CIGS vendors also must leverage markets where CIGS technology has inherent advantages over both c-Si and other thin-film PV technologies. CIGS' ever-improving efficiency means significantly more power and efficiency for rigid building-integrated PV (BIPV) products, and the technology uses a fraction of the material vs. c-Si for power generation -- but if electricity is the main goal, rooftop-affixed c-Si solar panels will always be the cheaper and preferred option.
 
CIGS’ differentiator, then, comes down to its long-appreciated ability to be produced on flexible substrates. Portable charging applications were an early area of opportunity for CIGS (and other technologies), from backpacks and tents to devices to clothing. NanoMarkets sees significant opportunities for flexible CIGS PV manufacturers in these applications with increasingly broad consumer appeal, emphasizing the technology’s functionality (ever higher efficiencies mean increased power generation), convenience, and style, either by developing their own products or linking up with high-end consumer products manufacturers. Global Solar (now Hanergy) and Ascent Solar are two examples of CIGS companies that are focused exclusively on portable charging stations.
 
CIGS and BIPV: The Market Awaits
 
However, the most promising market volumes and revenues for thin-film CIGS PV continue to be BIPV applications, where c-Si is not an option and the only other competitor (amorphous silicon) has a significant efficiency disadvantage. A prominent example is Dow's PowerHouse shingle, which uses CIGS absorber material from Global Solar/Hanergy. Launched in 2011, Dow’s Powerhouse shingles have made steady inroads into BIPV; they are now available in 17 U.S. states and Canada (where the first system went online in June), and have become more successful than previous a-Si-based products.
 
As cost/Watt continues to decline, these solar shingles (from Dow and others) are becoming viable for a broader consumer audience. NanoMarkets expects this to become a very profitable sector, evolving into just another regular option both for new home construction and re-roofing projects.
 
We also continue to see great opportunities for flexible CIGS in BIPV laminates, glued onto everything from roofs to façades to doors and fences depending on architectural or technical concerns, or even standalone laminates. This not only enables simpler and efficient installation, potentially installed by building owners themselves, it would help distribute costs through the materials that would be used anyway, making BIPV investments more attractive.
 
The key for CIGS PV manufacturers in flexible BIPV is to create products that have mass-market appeal (such as solar shingles), intimately connecting the PV components and building materials, to help share costs. This will make PV more accessible to more users, and help blend the cost of PV systems so it's more economical to install.
 
The Encapsulation Conundrum: Finding a Balance
 
There's a caveat with increased usage of flexible CIGS PV technology: long-term reliability, and its sensitivity to moisture more so than other thin-PV technologies. This is particularly a concern in BIPV applications which are generally outdoors and exposed to the elements for (ideally) decades. Rigid PV products (including conventional PV panels) are encapsulated in impermeable glass, but this isn’t an option for flexible CIGS, and “flexible glass,” despite eyeing various new markets of late, has yet to live up to its promises.
 
Companies leading the development in this area (all of which involve dyad films, multiple layers of organic and inorganic materials) include Dow Chemical, Fujifilm, 3M, and DuPont. Over the next few years, NanoMarkets expects more materials companies to develop and commercialize their own versions of dyad films, perhaps using different deposition techniques and different component materials, attempting to reduce the cost and complexity of these barrier systems. Some of the extra cost of these flexible encapsulation solutions can be borne through the higher value affixed to BIPV.
 
NanoMarkets sees broader adoption of both BIPV and CIGS hinging on a trade-off between cost and reliability, with lower-cost encapsulations emerging that offer minimal performance. We also note that transparency of the barrier also is very important, since any light obstruction directly reduces the performance of the PV cells within; we expect competition on this front as well.
Expanding the BIPV Market for DSC
Published: July 14, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

Conversion efficiency is a key metric because it directly impacts a system's cost of energy -- thus these recent advancements in perovskite ultimately translate into expanding the potential addressable end markets for DSC, bolstering its flexibility and customization capabilities with vastly improved energy output. First and foremost this means building-integrated PV (BIPV), integrated into roofs or architectural glass, and even into the walls, in products such as tiles, facades and shingles. If perovskite-based DSC solar cells can enter commercial production even at half their current efficiency (say at 10 percent or even the high-teens) that's a very viable commercial product that can compete favorably against other solar energy technologies, with added benefits of simplicity and cost, plus architectural flexibility and aesthetics -- light weight, robust, and semitransparent/light-transmissive. These BIPV applications also mean large panels, a far greater target market for DSC materials than, say, previous sectors of solar chargers on electronic products. And a higher-efficiency BIPV product can address markets with sub-optimal lighting conditions, from Europe to North America to Northeast Asia.

Alongside the DSC/perovskite technology development progress, NanoMarkets also expects to see DSC firms ramping up their strategies and partnerships to get their products to the end market. Oxford PV, for example, eyeing architectural glass on large commercial developments, claims it will soon issue its first license to a glass manufacturer, with revenues ramping up in 2016. Dyesol, leveraging the EPFL technology for DSCs involving steel and glass, is shooting for mass production techniques for solid-state DSCs in the next three to four years.

Generally speaking, NanoMarkets sees DSC-enabled BIPV applications likely inching closer to mass production levels toward the end of the decade, with the first commercial production of DSC modules coming within a five-year window from leading manufacturers such as Dyseol and 3GSolar. BIPV glass, the current hot-spot for DSC application, has channeled many investments and pilot efforts, particularly in Europe but with backing from Asian partners. Our latest analysis suggests the market for DSC-enabled BIPV glass will surge from just $1.3 million to more than $256 million in 2021.

For DSC used in roofing and siding applications, the use of liquid electrolyte has been a major disadvantage because of stringent sealing requirements to offset their sensitivity to moisture and air. Solid electrolytes -- perovskites would fall into this category -- could help improve this situation, especially if their efficiencies are vastly improved. Dyesol has disclosed plans to introduce solid-state DSCs for steel substrates within the next three years. NanoMarkets acknowledges uncertainty about overall industry commitment to pursuing commercial-production of DSC-integrated materials for roofs, given the increased ubiquity of cheaper silicon-based rooftop panels. Nevertheless, by the end of this decade we see this as another viable market for DSC, rising from nearly $6 million in 2016 to $225 million by 2021.

DSC Markets Beyond BIPV
Published: July 14, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

Beyond BIPV, NanoMarkets recognizes other end market opportunities for DSC that could bear fruit with higher-efficiency technology that works in low/ambient light conditions. However, we feel these are still several years further out from being viable revenue streams, and well short of the scale promised by BIPV:

•    Sensor networks. This area has been boosted by the "Internet of Things" (IoT) movement, though PV is not the leading power source candidate. DSC would have competition from other energy harvesting options here, and NanoMarkets doesn't see much commercial large-scale adoption in the near future.

•    Military. Applied everywhere from drones to uniforms, this is another smaller-scale niche with dreams of taking off on large scale, as DSC's features of flexibility, light weight, and autonomy play perfectly into military applications. Nevertheless we don't see this as a major revenue generator even on an extended horizon.

•    Automotive. This is an intriguing area, envisioning DSC panels embedded in both the exterior (rooftops and windows) and interior surfaces of cars. SolarPrint and Fiat have done early work here. Rechargeable stands for electric vehicles is a related area. Like other markets this sector is still early-stage development, but NanoMarkets believes rapid improvements in performance will make a major impact in this area.

•    Indoor applications. Indoor portable charging was an early market for DSC because of the technology's ability to generate electricity under low-light and artificial lighting conditions, with 20 percent efficiency exhibited. NanoMarkets believes this market could serve as a good substitute revenue-generating stream for DSC firms aside from the bigger target market of BIPV, especially if a major home goods or electronics firm were to commit. Solar chargers, the DSC success story so far, fall into this category with several vendors (G24, Samsung, Sekisui, Sony, TDK) already commercializing products, but NanoMarkets sees opportunities expanding into areas such as furniture (tables and lamps) with translucent surfaces incorporating a small battery to charge a portable device (Solaronix has produced one such prototype). Other portable consumer electronics avenues include e-readers, solar lamps, and solar-powered blinds.

•    Outdoor applications. DSC is well suited to many outdoor applications, where its low-cost processing and flexibility trump lower efficiency and inflexibility of more traditional silicon-based PV options. Solar awnings and umbrellas are an early application in the context of DSC, enabling structures that serve both as canopies and energy-generating surfaces. Digital signage, from LCD store displays to billboards, is a booming market with some off-grid requirements that PV and DSC could tap. NanoMarkets sees this mainly as a long-term possibility, however.

•    Retail applications. Point-of-scale displays such as kiosks require off-grid power which could be supplied by PV and DSC. DSC-enabled products have yet to be commercialized for this market, and improved efficiency will be key. While NanoMarkets sees significant growth in addressable capacity of DSC-enabled devices in this segment, that won't exactly translate into a major market opportunity.

Perovskite and DSC: The Market Revolution Begins with BIPV
Published: July 14, 2014 Category:

No solar cell material ever has enjoyed such a rapid trajectory of improvements -- nor the subsequent attention from researchers, industry, and media -- as perovskite. This material, known for decades but whose ability to convert sunlight wasn't appreciated until the past few years, has suddenly gained popularity with a velocity proportional to the flood of performance improvements coming out months and even weeks apart: from barely 3 percent conversion efficiency in 2009 to 10 percent in 2012, 16 percent in 2013, and as high as 19 percent according to recent conference reports. (A combination of c-Si cells and perovskite is thought to be able to achieve 32 percent efficiency.) That's tantalizingly alongside the performance of mainstream conventional silicon-based PV, but with the potential for far simpler and cheaper processes and manufacturing.

Here's why perovskite is attracting so much attention:

•    It can better absorb sunlight, meaning thinner films can be used, which means less materials (bringing costs down)

•    Perovskite requires only familiar wet chemistry techniques and simple benchtop processes -- manufacturing is vastly simpler than other solar technologies, from c-Si to liquid DSC

•    It's not liquid, which also makes for much simpler manufacturing especially at larger scale, and also means better lifetime stability

•    It offers significantly higher voltages because less energy is lost from activation and regeneration

NanoMarkets sees very important ramifications from perovskite's unprecedented trajectory for one specific market segment: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC). Several key DSC firms already have been at the forefront of the perovskite solar revolution:

•    The École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, a pioneer of modern-day DSC technology, touched 15 percent efficiency a year ago, and more recently behind closed doors has shown north of 17 percent efficiency, sources tell NanoMarkets. EPFL's DSC uses an inorganic-organic composite material with a perovskite, such as a dye and a hole-transporting material consisting of organic materials in place of electrolyte. (Specifically, the structure is a solid-state DSC of glass-FTO-TiO2-CH3NH3PbI3-HTM-Au.) Performance fluctuations have been resolved by tightening the perovskite material's particle diameters, through a two-step deposition (Pbl2 accumulated on TiO2, then immersed in a CH3NH3I solution),resulting in a DSC with relatively high power conversion efficiency and high reproducibility.

•    Another DSC-perovskite pioneer is Oxford Photovoltaics in the U.K., which is developing DSC modules with ambitious cost targets of $0.32/W for its technology which emphasizes transparency and color ideal for BIPV applications on building glass facades and rooftops. The company, a spinoff from the U. of Oxford (with 13 exclusive patents), believes it can achieve 20 percent conversion efficiencies with perovskite DSC panels. In fact, the company tells NanoMarkets that it's entirely shifting its strategy and future business away from DSC to focus on perovskite thin-film solar cells, targeting the same BIPV markets with broader reach while also exploring the aforementioned hybrid silicon-perovskite cells.

•    Dyesol, a longtime leader in DSC and organic PV, is transitioning from expensive liquid-based materials to relatively cheaper solid-state materials, including perovskite sensitizers and the Spiro solid-state electrolyte -- a significant move considering the higher efficiency, lower cost, and better scalability prospects for solid-state DSCs. Dyesol also has a long association with EPFL.

The flip side of perovskite's promise is its disruption to suppliers. A major reason why it's received so much research attention is because as mentioned above its simplicity is utterly the opposite of a barrier to entry. According to some back-of-the-napkin math from one DSC materials provider, a 1 MW system with 100,000 sq. m of surface area would require up to 25 lbs of film layers but just 1.5 kg of perovskite material at a market value of $100.

All this excitement about perovskite material is, of course, happening at small-scale R&D. NanoMarkets understands much more work is needed before commercial viability can happen, most importantly in understanding the mechanics behind their degradation, making them stable and reliable over years of lifetime, improving their sensitivity to humidity, improving and simplifying how to properly package them, and all the while wringing costs out. A newer area of focus is replacing the tiny amounts of lead in current perovskite with other substances such as tin; the Pb amounts are tiny but could be subject to penalties of toxicity, not to mention negative marketplace perceptions. We reiterate that all of this hoopla about perovskite is still several years away from translating into commercial-ready large-size (e.g. 1 square meter) modules with 10 percent conversion efficiencies.

NanoMarkets believes, though, that perovskite's rapid trajectory of efficiency improvement, with potential pairing of DSC's features, could very well attract heightened interest from investors, strategically from within the industry and/or from capital markets, which could accelerate innovation and product development efforts and shorten the combined technologies' runway toward commercialization.

Thoughts on the Commercial Future of Smart Lighting
Published: July 08, 2014 Category: Smart Technology

Many of the firms that jumped into the smart lighting space a few years back have disappeared or been acquired under fire sale conditions.  Some apparently innovative smart lighting products have also been launched, yet have been greeted with a yawn by the lighting marketplace.

NanoMarkets continues to see smart lighting as a major business opportunity over the next decade.  But we think it will take both a new kind of technology and a different focus to make it happen:

Technology-- Still Some Way to Go:  The “smart” in “smart lighting” might seem to provide a way for lighting firms to differentiate themselves in the market.  Yet many smart lighting systems today use technology that is not especially novel; these supposedly “smart” systems might be better characterized as “lighting management systems,” a product “species” that has been around for a couple of decades at least.  

Although we think that such older technology will go into decline in the next few years, almost 70 percent of the revenues from “smart” lighting systems in 2014 will come from these conventional lighting management systems.  Using this technology, it is hard to make lighting systems stand out in the marketplace.

Value Proposition – Not As Clear As it Seems:  Most smart lighting systems are aimed at increasing energy efficiency and this is a clear enough message in an era of rising real energy prices. However, for many end users who have only just switched to LEDs as a way of saving on their lighting bills, installing a smart lighting system may be a bridge too far.  Some will want to wait to see what LEDs alone can do.  Other end users – perhaps the most sophisticated – will take a more holistic approach and may decide to eschew smart lighting.  For example, they might consider the latest generation of smart windows and highly insulated windows as their energy-saving technology of choice.  

The point here is that while cutting down on energy bills is a good thing per se, building owners and managers are not likely to install every energy saving technology available.  They will choose among such technologies most of the time. Smart lighting has significant competition in this sense.

Despite these issues, NanoMarkets continues to believe that smart lighting remains a considerable business opportunity both in terms of market size  -- just over a billion dollars in revenues expected in 2014 – and in terms of growth – NanoMarkets believes that billion dollars will turn into around 11 billion dollars by 2019 or so.  However, bullish assertions of this kind assume that (1) the latest electronics and sensor technology will be embedded in smart lighting in a manner that will both impress potential customers and which can be protected as viable intellectual property and (2) the functionality of smart lighting will evolve beyond energy efficiency so that smart lighting has more to offer those customers than just a saving on electricity bills:

Making lighting truly smart:  The line between the lighting management systems mentioned above and truly smart lighting is a fine one.  However, it is fair to say that ”real” smart lighting systems are smaller, lighter, more wireless oriented and can be controlled through smart phones.  This kind of smart lighting system is attracting the attention of the semiconductor industry where a handful of firms are designing specialized controller chips for this leading edge kind of smart lighting.   Established standards in wireless networking are also being adapted to smart lighting requirements.

These are all important developments, but NanoMarkets suspects that it will take more to get smart lighting into the mainstream.  In particular, we are hopeful that smart lighting will get caught up in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) meme, with smart lighting becoming the natural extension of IoT into the lighting sphere.  The point here is that the IoT megatrend could become a powerful force for the diffusion of smart lighting technology.

Beyond energy savings – the mood factor:  Some of the latest smart lighting technology is already showing how this kind of lighting can move beyond mere energy efficiency and can therefore expand the addressable markets available to smart lighting.  

More specifically, while future smart lighting offerings will continue to be highly energy efficient, we expect them to offer sophisticated mood and health features, perhaps based on smart spectrum and brightness tuning functionality.  It has always been understood that quality of light can impact quality of life, work performance and even health in a significant way.  This type of smart lighting system – as it emerges – will continue to cater to the need for energy efficiency but will provide many more reasons for building owners and managers to buy smart lighting.  It can therefore go some way to countering the objection mentioned above that smart lighting is just one way among many to reduce energy consumption in a building.

However, there are some important uncertainties here that in the end may prove to be market limitations for the spread of smart lighting into the mood and health business.  On the one hand, there seems to a growing literature “proving” that mood lighting is beneficial to health, work performance and mood.  On the other hand, NanoMarkets has discovered that there is still a considerable amount of skepticism about such things in the medical community.  Nonetheless, NanoMarkets is still forecasting that by 2019 smart mood lighting will be generating $2.9 billion, which is a large enough market for any lighting firm to chase after.   

The bottom line with smart lighting then is that we are just starting out.  Much of what is being branded as smart lighting today is only slightly less clunky than the lighting management systems that were on the market a generation ago.  We think that new electronics and sensors standards designed specifically with smart lighting in mind will make a qualitative difference, transforming smart lighting into part of the IoT.

NanoMarkets also thinks that the dominant view that smart lighting is just another energy saving technology may not be enough to turn smart lighting into a ubiquitous technology and that novel functionality – such as mood and health enhancement – will be necessary to make smart lighting all it can be.

Silver Inks and Pastes Resurgence?
Published: June 10, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials

The environment has changed since NanoMarkets last published a report on silver inks and pastes. We think that current trends in silver inks and pastes markets will change the opportunities available to suppliers and shift their focus going forward.  

New opportunities in photovoltaics: The crystalline silicon (C-Si) PV market became the single biggest user of conventional silver pastes in 2011, but first the rise of thin-film PV and then the bursting of the PV bubble has threatened silver paste sales in the PV market.

That situation has now changed for the better from the perspective of the silver paste suppliers.  As the PV industry has emerged from its slump, c-Si has regained dominance.  This is good news for printed silver suppliers because, even though we are seeing a trend toward using less silver in c-Si panels, the increased PV capacity worldwide means more revenue opportunities for companies that supply materials for panels. 

Another good piece of news is that the collapse of PV prices has ended and in fact the price of c-Si panels has begun to rise a bit.  This makes panel makers a little less likely to go in search of alternatives to silver.  Meanwhile, silver paste suppliers are responding to opportunities in PV by expanding their offerings to this sector and tailoring materials to meet the requirements of today’s cell and panel designs.  The bottom line is that prospects for sales into the PV sector are reasonably good.

All this is very good news for the paste suppliers.  But the renaissance of c-Si does not mean that they are home free.  It seems highly likely that thin-film PV technologies (notably CIGS) will reassert itself in the next few years.  And, as already noted, the solar panel industry is seeking out new ways to reduce its use of silver.

Dropping silver prices: Although all serious players in the silver inks and pastes market hedge by buying and selling silver futures, there is no doubt that big price changes in the silver markets can impact the silver pastes and inks markets.

Silver prices dropped dramatically in 2013, ending the year near $20 per troy ounce, and they have hovered around that range since. 

Facing what looked to be an extended period of high silver prices, over $30 per troy ounce, nearly all major silver ink and paste suppliers have emphasized products with lower silver content while maintaining high (and sometimes improved) performance. So they face a marketing issue as to whether to continue to push these products in a different economic environment or revert to a more silver-centric strategy.

While silver could decline further in price there seems to be something of a consensus that prices will begin to rise again. If this is the case, despite temporarily lower silver prices, business conditions for materials with a lower silver content should remain excellent. Customers also probably see them as better options, especially in the long run. 

The case for nanosilver: For many years, nanosilver inks and pastes was touted as a strategic alternative to conventional silver inks and pastes because it can deliver higher performance with lower silver content.  In addition, during the big printed electronics bubble of several years back, printed nanosilver traces were seen as the way to create interconnects of various kinds.

These earlier hopes for nanosilver inks and pastes seem to have faded.  There is some evidence that nanosilver pastes have been used in the Asian display industry, but no evidence that this has been widespread.  The problem has been that the total cost of nanomaterials is not lower, because any cost savings from using less silver is offset by the higher cost of developing and producing the nanosilver inks and pastes. In addition, the original conception of printed electronics has all but gone away and no longer represents an obvious opportunity.

In the past couple of years, NanoMarkets had come to believe that nanosilver inks would find their niche as a research material and would have few other opportunities.  But we are now seeing signs that nanosilver may be on the rise. DuPont has introduced nanosilver inks specifically geared toward the OLED lighting market, but also for applications such as wearable electronics and sensors. 

With an industry giant like DuPont pursuing nanosilver, the industry needs to take notice. And one possible takeaway is that the high hopes of a decade ago that nanosilver inks would be a key material for the prophesied printed electronics “revolution,” may now be in the process of transferring to a future wearables and IoT revolution.  

So NanoMarkets now we sees reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of nanosilver. The future of nanosilver is in no way guaranteed, but it is looking less uncertain that it did a year ago. In order for nanosilver to move from R&D into commercial production, however, the focus needs to be on performance rather than price and therefore on applications that are not extremely cost-sensitive. 

Continuing Prospects for Silver Inks and Pastes

Suppliers of printed silver have enjoyed a long period of growth due to shifting needs and the development of new applications. In fact, the silver inks and pastes business has been very fortunate in finding a new and big opportunity, each time the old and big opportunity has vanished. Thus silver paste opportunities have shifted over the past half century from membrane switches to PCs to mobile phones and then on to PV.  With the decline of the PV industry, it finally looked as if the silver inks and pastes business was out of luck.  However, as we discussed above, we think that he industry has been saved in this regard.

In any case, we note that, while some traditional markets for silver pastes are genuinely disappearing (e.g., plasma TVs) other traditional markets continue to offer hope for stable or even growing revenues.

Traditional thick film applications: Traditional consumer electronics is a mature market that still uses billions of dollars of silver pastes every year. While it is not growing, it remains a steady source of income that suppliers can rely on while they develop products for newer applications. 

Even without high volume growth, most suppliers of silver inks and pastes cannot afford to ignore the thick film sector. Customers may be looking for lower cost alternatives, but many who are already using silver will continue to do so.  They aren’t seriously considering alternatives.

Displays: The market for silver in plasma display panels (PDPs) is declining rapidly along with the overall decline in the PDP market, but there are still opportunities for the printed inks and pastes in newer display applications:

•    Touch displays have been around for a while, but have become much more widely commercialized over the past few years with the boom in smartphones and tablet computers. Printed silver could be used for the circuitry required for integration of the touch panels with the underlying displays.  

•    Similarly, although printed silver pastes are not particularly prevalent in displays today (although printed silver conductive adhesives are), we think there are opportunities for printed silver to be used in the circuitry of all types of new display formats, in both conventional LCDs and newer OLED displays.

•    Printed silver could be very useful in flexible displays. Truly flexible displays are many years off, if they ever do become commercial products, but suppliers that develop materials that are compatible with flexible circuit boards could take advantage of future developments in flexible displays. 

Lighting: Thick film silver paste has been used in electroluminescent (EL) lamps for many years, and will continue to be so. This is not, however, a growth opportunity. But the commercialization of the OLED lighting market, which seems to be accelerating could poses a real opportunity for printed silver suppliers.

We believe that large OLED lighting panels could employ printed silver as bus bars to prevent visible brightness gradients due to the significant voltage drops and resistive heat losses across long spans of less-conductive transparent electrodes. Printed silver can also serve as interconnects for concatenated OLED lighting panels.  However, OLED lighting panels that are large enough for all this to matter are still a few years out.

Demographic and economic factors: Increased industrialization and urbanization of the developing world creates increased per capita expenditures in a variety of products that use printed silver. Also, silver inks and pastes are used in so many consumer products that increases in the world population as a whole is likely to spur increased demand for silver inks and pastes.

Smart Lighting Moves Beyond Energy Efficiency
Published: May 28, 2014 Category: Smart Technology

NanoMarkets believes that in the past year or so the smart lighting industry has begun to grow up. It has begun to focus on what the opportunities are for its products rather than simply dwelling on technical issues. Our sense of the market is that in the past, next-generation smart lighting firms have been uncourageous about saying how their systems differ from each other and from the previous generation of lighting management systems. We now appear to have reached a stage in the evolution of the smart lighting business, where firms in this space must think hard about what they really have to offer.

Judging from the fact that quite a lot of firms have quit the smart lighting business in the past few years, some smart lighting firms have spent too much money on engineering and not enough on marketing and business development.  At the very least some smart lighting companies may not have thought through entirely how their products are going to make money in the coming years.  

In this respect, commercial and industrial buildings are a better bet than residential buildings when it comes to selling smart lighting, because the benefits of smart lighting can, for the most part, be easily quantified for business users.  This fact of life is reflected in NanoMarkets’ most recent forecasts where we show smart lighting for commercial and industrial buildings as generating $5.1 billion by 2019, but residential smart lighting for the same year with revenues of just $820 million.

It is also apparent that smart lighting firms will now have to work to get their products into profitable channels.  For the giant lighting firms—the GEs and Osrams of this world—this is not an issue.  However, for the many smaller firms in this business what this will mean is slogging away trying to build arrangements with local and regional building product and electrical supply outlets/installers.  This takes time.  Selling smart lighting through major national chains is another option—and to some extent a quick fix—but it is not easy to get one’s products into such retailers and may not be optimal given the retail-orientation of many of these outlets.

Beyond this, NanoMarkets believes that there are some trends that have not been recognized widely yet by the smart lighting community, but which will be important going forward. One of these is the necessity for smart lighting suppliers to push their marketing stories well beyond the energy efficiency meme.  Another is the degree to which there are opportunities for smart lighting in markets other than buildings. 

As NanoMarkets noted in its 2013 smart lighting report, firms that fail to find effective ways to differentiate themselves in what is already becoming a crowded smart lighting marketplace, will quickly see their business slip away from them. In our 2012 smart lighting report we specifically noted that many of the smart lighting systems from firms that were purportedly innovative start-ups, actually had a certain sameness to them.  They seemed to be offering features and benefits that just weren't that special and we questioned whether these would be enough to build a sustainable business for smart lighting firms.  

Yet in a recent interview with a smart lighting firm, NanoMarkets was told that it was hard enough to design a smart lighting product for energy efficiency without having to worry about functionality beyond energy efficiency.  However, we think that increasingly such comments are going to seem beside the point.  

Beyond Efficiency:  Why Smart Mood Lighting is the Next Big Thing 

Possibly, the necessary market differentiation for smart lighting can be achieved simply by offering higher levels of performance; such as quicker response times for lighting systems.  But it seems to us that more will be needed in the era of the Internet-of-Things (IoT), when customers are going to be looking for more than just an extra percentage point on energy efficiency.  

IoT raises the stakes.  As a result, we think that manufacturers of smart lighting will switch to a bigger story; one that encompasses “mood lighting” as well as energy efficiency. For our purposes, mood lighting in this context includes lighting designed to influence, not just immediate mood, but long-term health and work performance.  According to NanoMarkets’ forecasts, smart lighting with mood enhancement capability will generate $2.9 billion by 2019.

It has been well understood since the days of the first incandescent light that changes in light can affect health, mood, and human performance.  However, given the nature of lighting technology, there has until recently been a limited amount that could be done to take advantage of what was known about light and human behavior.  With the new solid-state lighting systems—those based on LEDs—a lot more can be done. These systems intrinsically allow for more control, partly precisely because they are based on chips not tubes and bulbs. 

As NanoMarkets sees things, there is enough potential in the smart mood lighting concept to allow for substantial differentiation in smart lighting products and systems for most of the eight-year period that is covered in this report.  And when the mood lighting idea begins to run out of steam, smart lighting can tap into smart lighting based visible light communications (VLC).  However, we also expect that smart mood lighting will increasingly be challenged by professional medical opinion which is already saying that the health benefits of lighting are not all that they are cracked up to be.

Thinking Outside of the Building

The other profitable new direction that NanoMarkets sees for smart lighting is in markets outside of traditional building usages.  Non-building sectors in which smart lighting could be deployed include transportation, street lighting and other outdoor lighting. Together, we see these applications for smart lighting as accounting for $4.6 billion in revenues; that is 42 percent of all smart lighting revenues.  These applications will account for just 12 percent of smart lighting in 2014.

What is creating this opportunity for smart lighting outside of buildings is the same factor that is creating opportunities for lighting applications inside buildings; the growing role of LEDs.  LEDs are a key enabler for smart lighting systems because they are chips and therefore inherently more controllable than the types of lighting that went before it.  So with LEDs, smart lighting systems are more of an obvious play than they were with earlier generations of lighting.

Automotive:  NanoMarkets believes that by 2015 we are going to see significant revenues generated by smart lighting systems in the automotive sector.  This may not be all that obvious though, because the impetus for smart lighting in cars and trucks is coming not from the smart lighting community itself, but rather from the automobile firms and it is not always tagged as being “smart” lighting, although this is exactly what it is.  Among the firms that have indicated publicly that they are involved with developing smart lighting are Audi, BMW, Opal and Mercedes-Benz.  (All German car firms, by the way, and more or less the same group that are working with smart windows in their cars.)

One aspect of smart lighting in the automotive segment that interests us especially is that it is another example of smart lighting moving beyond energy efficiency.  Thus, Audi’s Matrix LED headlamps are said to provide more precise lighting for the driver and less blinding light that dazzles drivers in oncoming cars. BMW is working on "laser headlamps" that offer white lighting that can be intelligently modulated. 

The general objective of these developments seems to be to provide improved control of the outside lighting on cars for greater safety.  But as NanoMarkets sees things, “smarts” could also be deployed inside a vehicle. Smart mood lighting seems to be especially appropriate in this context; to provide passengers and drivers with greater comfort. This makes sense in cars and internal lighting has also been a specific focus of Boeing and (presumably) other firms that make airliners.

One ongoing advantage to the transportation sector from the perspective of the lighting industry is that once a particular smart lighting product is designed into a popular vehicle, this can guarantee that tens of thousands of lights will be sold.  The flip side of this is that design-in times (i.e., lead times) can be very long.  In the auto industry three years is typical.  In aerospace, it can be seven years.

Street lighting and other outdoor lighting:  Outdoor lighting is in just as much need of energy efficiency as in-building lights; arguably more.  Therefore, we see emerging a significant market for smart outdoor lighting, which can potentially be quite elaborate.  A recent project at the University of California illustrates this well. The University has built a $1-million network of outdoor smart lighting that "talk to each other and adapt to their environment." According to press reports, the new outdoor lights promise to save the university $100,000 on electricity and make it a safer place after dark.  

This University of California smart lighting system can be scheduled and adjusted for increased or decreased levels of activity, such as during sporting events, or to guide pedestrians along preferred routes. The system senses occupants, whether on foot, bicycle or automobile, predicts their direction of travel, and lights the path ahead. The smart network also senses when areas are vacant, then dims lights enough to save energy and reduce light pollution, without compromising safety.

Street lighting is also gradually using more LEDs and consequently is a likely target for smart lighting in the future.  Large individual orders are possible as they are in the transportation sector—street light installations can involve thousands of lights.  But lead times can be a lot more attractive for novel lighting designs than in the transportation sector.  However, smart lighting faces a serious challenge in the street lighting sector—the problem of glare.  The HID lighting that is currently used in street lighting is good on glare, but not easy to make smart.

The converse is apparently true for LED lighting and NanoMarkets believes that this fact may again drive smartness for lighting away from being a pure energy efficiency play. Although we are not entirely clear how this can be done, some form of intelligence might be used to reduce glare.  Meanwhile, we note that Philips is teaming up with Ericsson on a connected street lighting project. It combines LED lighting from Philips with Ericsson’s telecommunications equipment and uses VLC to make street lights into hot spots for mobile devices.  

Yet again, this indicates just how far smart lighting can potentially reach beyond the energy efficient lighting label.

Smart Lighting, Multi-Market Segment Impact
Published: May 13, 2014 Category: Smart Technology

Smart lighting has for years been controlled by lighting control systems firms, companies focused on lighting systems rather than individual luminaires or building-wide energy management. What is different in 2014 is the extent to which multiple industries are actively pursuing smart lighting, a factor NanoMarkets emphasizes in our most recent report on the topic. We are seeing increased interest in smart lighting from large lighting companies, building automation firms, LED chip makers, and even software companies and network communications firms. All these sectors have the chance to benefit from growth in smart lighting, but they will need to focus on more than merely energy efficiency.

The companies most likely to find success in the next few years are those targeting advances that are poised for growth, such as lighting specifically designed to improve mood or health. Initial revenues in health and mood lighting are likely to come from the medical sector, which is not as cost-conscious as other industries.

Another important trend that cannot be ignored is increased emphasis on the Internet-of-Things, which in the context of lighting creates an Internet of light in which each lamp is a node in an interconnected network.

Large Lighting Companies Pursue Smarter Options

Global industry giants such as Philips, GE, and Osram, as well as conglomerates like Acuity Brands in the U.S. and Zumbotel in Europe, have been involved in lighting since well before it became smart. All of them now supply to the smart lighting industry to some extent, but they vary in how much they have actively gone after opportunities in this area. They have been generally slow to respond to the smart lighting market, which opened up the market to start-ups and smaller firms. But now that opportunities in smart lighting are too great to ignore, these established lighting firms are beginning to take a more aggressive stance, a trend that we believe will serve them well in the future. Philips and Osram are the best-positioned to take advantage of growth in smart lighting.

Osram: Dynamic lighting systems to improve health. NanoMarkets believes that Osram’s recent focus on lighting for mood and health is likely to give it the opportunity to move ahead in the smart lighting space, especially if it combines LEDs, controllers, and other system components to provide a more vertically integrated solution. This is the direction the company is headed, and it is focusing on the medical industry, which NanoMarkets believes will be the first industry segment to effectively incorporate health and mood lighting. Osram’s has developed or is in the process of developing several relevant products that can address customer needs.

Osram has developed a lighting concept that is being used in a pain center in Germany to help patients by providing light therapy. The system includes two standard luminaires, one that generates warm white light and one that generates cold white light, with a control mechanism to alternate between the two and adjust illumination and color.

Osram is in the R&D phase of creating dynamic lighting systems that can provide an “indoor sky” effect, with bluer tones in the morning and redder light in the evening. It is targeting a variety of applications to improve the wellbeing of students, office workers, and hospital patients. Osram tried this approach in two German primary schools, using blueish white light aimed at the ceiling to improve students’ ability to concentrate.

Schools, with their limited budgets, are not likely to invest in such products in the near term. But Osram can market a similar product to hospitals, providing benefits to both employees and patients. This approach is much more likely to lead to commercial success and allow Osram to move ahead in smart lighting.

Philips: Personalized Lighting. NanoMarkets’ impression is that Philips, which was the first large manufacturer to enter the smart lighting market with its Hue light bulbs, is still one of the most innovative firms in the smart lighting space. It is creating products for a wide range of indoor and outdoor applications and targeting industry trends. One of these is individual control of lighting designed to enhance mood, health, or productivity.

Philips recently launched a connected lighting system where every cubicle in an office building will have its own sensors, providing workers with control over their own light and temperature settings using their smart phones. The system is connected to the building’s IT infrastructure via Ethernet, providing an integrated building automation system (BAS) where the facility manager can view and manage data from a single interface.

Philips’ Luminous Ceiling concept is a system of over 15,000 LEDs that can hang over a patient’s bed and mimic daylight or introduce other colors, with programming capability to change the spectrum to meet the needs of each individual patient. It is being demonstrated in a clinic in Berlin with patients who are in intensive care before or after surgery.

Philips has proven itself to be innovative, and we believe that this will serve it well in the long run. The company now sells its hue lighting systems in Apple stores, which we believe is a good move that will help build awareness of its products. Some of the clever products Philips has come up with, however, might be ahead of the curve in terms of what the market is demanding and may be seen as expensive novelties. This could reduce its potential customer base in the near term and allow competitors – either lighting companies like Osram or traditional lighting control systems firms – to gain an advantage.

Building Automation Manufacturers Look at Lighting

Companies like Honeywell, Trane, and Johnson Controls have long been involved in building automation, primarily from the viewpoint of heating and air conditioning control (HVAC). They stand to benefit from integrating lighting control into their systems, but vary in how actively they are pursuing lighting opportunities at this time.  For various reasons, lighting never seems to have been a high priority for many of these firms, although NanoMarkets sees signs that this is about to change.

For example, GE teamed up with Trane on a system that integrates control of lighting and HVAC. The system, released in 2013, combines GE’s LightSweep Modular Lighting Control Solution with the Trane Tracer BAS. This collaboration between GE and Trane provide evidence that integration of building automation and lighting is finally coming to pass, even involving companies that historically have worked in completely separate realms.

Despite Trane’s efforts, and moves by Johnson Controls to collaborate with lighting systems control companies, Honeywell remains the building automation firm with the most forward-looking strategy in smart lighting. Honeywell offers LED luminaires as well as wireless occupancy and daylight sensors and modules that customers can use to build a complete lighting system. Its flexible approach should put it in a good position to be competitive, as should its use of open standards. Honeywell’s strength in building controls may convince customers to trust it to provide lighting solutions as well. But the company is primarily focusing on energy efficiency, which may give it a disadvantage if demand for health and mood lighting increases as predicted.

LED Chip Makers Market to Smart Lighting Firms

As lighting becomes smarter, companies that produce LED chips (drivers) have more stake in integrating their capabilities at a systems level and are becoming more important players in the smart lighting industry. Rather than merely producing chips that can be used in smart lighting systems, chip makers are beginning to market their products directly to the smart lighting industry and create new products that are more closely aligned to smart lighting needs.

Several companies are at the forefront of smart lighting electronics, with at least a dozen others waiting in the wings. Companies to watch in this space include:

Marvell: the first major semiconductor firm to put together a complete smart lighting platform and still a leader whose collaborative efforts and internal IP are likely to lead to further innovation. Marvell’s software supports various open protocols, and its efforts to work with other ZigBee Alliance members should help it solidify its position as a leader in smart lighting electronics.

NXP Semiconductors: a spin-off from Philips with an emphasis on smart lighting in the context of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) that will likely strengthen its position in the industry. NXP is collaborating with GreenWave Reality and Leedarson Lighting to accelerate adoption of its IoT-enabled smart light bulbs, giving an example of how semiconductor companies and lighting manufacturers can work together.

STMicroelectronics: a company with a long history in lighting and involvement in smart grid technologies, which has not yet moved aggressively into smart lighting but has the IP to do so. STMicroelectronics is behind Marvell and NXP in the smart lighting arena, but it is developing low power microcontrollers that can control light, sound, and temperature, which may put in a good position to collaborate with building automation companies if other semiconductor firms don’t get there first.

Networking Companies Can Benefit

The growth in lighting networks means that communication companies can get involved. This can take the form of acquiring lighting firms. The most obvious example is CommScope’s acquisition of Redwood Systems. Prior to the acquisition, Redwood was one of the better known specialist lighting management firms.

The combined efforts of CommScope and Redwood Systems should provide both companies with greater opportunities in the smart lighting space. Redwood adds a new product to the CommScope range and CommScope customers may expand the addressable market for Redwood.  Finally, CommScope’s expertise in the data communications space may lead to innovative new products; few other smart lighting firms can claim that they are insiders in the communications space. Depending on how this plays out, it could serve as a model for other collaborative efforts that benefit both parties.

Smart lighting is a growing industry, with many players trying to get a piece of the action. NanoMarkets believes that we may very well see some consolidation in smart lighting, either via acquisitions or smaller players dropping out. Companies that collaborate across industry segments and create differentiated products that meet customers’ current and anticipated needs will be most likely to succeed. 

Materials Trends for BIPV Glass
Published: April 28, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Renewable Energy

In order to move beyond a niche product, building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) will need to demonstrate both improved efficiency and lower cost. NanoMarkets believes that BIPV should be able to benefit from the growth that we expect to see in the PV market as a whole, but the degree to which it succeeds will likely depend on advances in technology and choice of PV materials. This may require switching to improved or completely different materials than what is commonly used today. Our latest report on BIPV glass, “BIPV Glass Markets– 2014 and Beyond,” describes PV technologies being used for this application today and analyzes which materials are likely to gain market share in the future.

Crystalline Silicon PV Still Dominates Market

The dominant form of BIPV glass consists of walls of window panes, some of which are crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV panels, and some of which are transparent glass. Because c-Si panels are not transparent, this is really the only way to incorporate it into BIPV glass today. This is a very low form of integration, but c-Si continues to dominate the BIPV market.

NanoMarkets believes that despite the drawbacks of c-Si, it will remain dominant through the end of the decade. It remains the incumbent PV technology for all applications and has the highest efficiency. Module prices have fallen, spurring growth in all sectors that use c-Si panels. Improvements in c-Si technology will also support its continued use in BIPV glass. According to the forecasts in our recent report, c-Si is expected to lose market share over the forecast period but still retain 75% of the addressable market.

We expect to see increased efforts to overcome the lack of transparency of c-Si panels. Even though c-Si is itself an opaque material, the trend toward thinner and thinner cells (down to as low as 100 μm) may be able to enable semi-transparent solutions. The fact that the busbar width is also reducing from 2 mm to 1 mm should also help with transparency, although it should be noted that at the same time the number of busbars on Si cells are increasing.

Despite advances in c-Si technology, it still has some significant drawbacks as a BIPV material that go beyond the lack of transparency. One issue is aesthetics – many people believe that c-Si panels are ugly, and they often don’t blend in well with the rest of the building.

Performance in situations of indirect or diffuse light is a serious problem because c-Si modules show limited capacity in converting diffused solar irradiation to energy. Shadows naturally fall onto building walls throughout the day, which can lead to loss of power in a shaded c-Si module that extends to all modules connected in series within the same circuit.

Thin Film PV Options

Thin film PV technologies may be able to pave the way toward cheaper BIPV glass, which will be needed in order for BIPV to break into the growing market for zero net energy buildings. TFPV cells offer lighter weight compared to c-Si and many have the advantage of performing equally well in direct sunlight and in shaded environments. This is especially important for applications where BIPV is integrated into building walls rather than skylights.

TFPV technologies are for the most part not mature today, but as the solar sector starts to offer sustained growth, NanoMarkets sees potential for BIPV glass firms to move away from c-Si. They have several options that are compelling, but all have their inherent risks as well:

CIGS: Many CIGS firms disappeared during the solar bust, but some of those who remain are specifically targeting BIPV glass. For example, Manz is involved with BIPV glass and has produced specialty modules with flexibility, color, and design meant to suit the tastes of architects. CIGS is flexible, which allows it to be used on curved building façades, and its high efficiency makes it attractive. NanoMarkets expects CIGS firms to edge their way into the BIPV glass space over the next few years.

CdTe: The CdTe market remains dominated by First Solar who hasn’t expressed interest in BIPV. That said, CdTe has good efficiency, and third parties use CdTe cells from First Solar in BIPV applications, which should help speed up commercialization. CdTe is the only thin-film photovoltaic technology that has surpassed c-Si PV in terms of overall low system cost in multi-kilowatt systems, which gives it a major advantage for BIPV. It does, however, have disadvantages in terms of transparency and the toxicity of cadmium. NanoMarkets believes that these limitations will mean a delay of several years before CdTe emerges as a competitive technology for BIPV glass applications.

DSC: Dye-Sensitized cells (DSC) can be solution processed on a glass substrate, making them very suitable for BIPV glass.  In addition, they are quite good when it comes to performance in environments with indirect or diffuse light, and DSC glass can vary in color and transparency, making it very attractive for the BIPV market.  Several firms are pursuing DSC for BIPV applications, but currently high prices and limited long-term stability are bottlenecks that make large-scale commercialization a challenge. Current use is limited to trials and pilot production. Until price and reliability improve, that is unlikely to change, but ongoing research and recent investments in this area may yield results that can accelerate commercialization.

OPV: The properties of DSC that make it appealing for BIPV glass also apply to organic PV. Compared to technologies such as CdTe, it is a much “greener” option, which should appeal to those aiming for zero net energy buildings. OPV cells contain no toxic compounds and are potentially disposable and recyclable. Efficiency is currently not great, but it is improving, and will need to continue to do so in order to gain more widespread interest. Heliatek is on the forefront of improving OPV efficiency, and its joint development agreement with AGC Glass Europe is encouraging. Still, OPV is unlikely to resolve efficiency and product durability issues quickly, making it more of a long-term option.

Amorphous silicon: Amorphous silicon (a-Si) was the original TFPV and is a lower cost alternative to c-Si. It is flexible, which is an advantage for curved glass structures. Still, other technologies, such as CIGS, can also claim this benefit and may be more compelling because of higher efficiency. Low performance would appear to make a-Si less desirable than other options, but many Chinese companies are still in this market, keeping it alive, and future product evolution is likely to spur modest growth in the coming years.

Colored Glass

One of the selling points of BIPV compared to traditional rooftop PV panels is aesthetics, so adding color to the glass – so long as it doesn’t adversely affect transparency – is one way BIPV glass suppliers can differentiate themselves in the market and make their products more appealing to building designers. This feature is especially compelling for BIPV glass façades in buildings and may be able to expand the addressable market.

The ability to combine color and aesthetics into solar-panel production is a significant paradigm shift and it will provide glass companies with a significant competitive advantage in an industry dominated by black and blue panels. Partnerships between glass suppliers and PV module manufacturers may enable both players to benefit. One example is the joint venture between SwissINSO and Acomet Solar. The companies recently completed the first installation of light blue PV panels on a building façade, with several other projects contracted in Switzerland and the U.K.

PV technologies that can provide different colors, such as DSC and OPV, are another avenue that can provide the aesthetic appeal that architects are looking for. These technologies and thus likely to have a future in BIPV if they can overcome the limitations preventing them from achieving commercial success in the short term.

NanoMarkets expects the BIPV glass market to grow over the next eight years, from just over $800 million in 2014 to around $4.6 billion by 2021. This growth assumes advances in all types of BIPV glass and price reductions that make it appealing to the mass market. This will allow BIPV glass to be used not only in prestige buildings, which currently constitute the largest sources of revenue for BIPV glass, but also in net zero energy buildings, which is a much larger market and should provide a greater source of revenue in the long term. 

Resurgent CIGS?
Published: April 24, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

While silicon PV is currently king of the PV landscape, CIGS is a PV technology that has the potential to make significant inroads in the next several years.  While progress has been slow due to the complexity of co-depositing four elements to generate the material and the need for encapsulation of the moisture-sensitive product, the high efficiency of CIGS (near that of single crystal PV), coupled with the requirement for only small amounts of the raw materials, provides one of the few paths to beating current Si-based PV in terms of cost.  

The past ten years have been difficult for CIGS.  During the PV bubble timeframe (2005-2008), there was much activity in the CIGS area with dozens of start-ups in the field.  However, although CIGS held much promise, the combination of the financial crash of 2008, which dried up funding, the immaturity of the CIGS process, and the aggressive price reductions in silicon PV as China ramped that technology to volume resulted in most CIGS companies going bankrupt or being acquired at a deep discount.  

Despite these challenges, today silicon PV is very mature and nearing its limits of cost reduction, while CIGS is still early in its ramp to high-volume production, with many opportunities for economies of scale improvements that should lower the overall price to less than that of silicon PV.  

CIGS is also out of the lab and beginning to enter large-scale production, as evidenced by the construction of high-volume factories in Taiwan by TSMC, in China by Hanergy, and by Solar Frontier in Japan.  Building-integrated PV (BIPV) products such as Dow’s solar shingle (available in 17 states to date) are also now on the market.  Hanergy is now even selling CIGS modules at IKEA in the U.K.  

There is, as a result, renewed optimism for CIGS; however, it must be tempered with some measure of skepticism. After all, everything seemed poised for rapid CIGS growth several years ago, and some of the factors that brought it down then are still here today (cost competition from silicon, need for capital for factory construction, acceptance in the market).  

Our analysis shows that while there is some risk, the entry of large corporations such as TSMC and Hanergy will both provide the financing and high-volume manufacturing excellence CIGS needs to be successful and allow it to make serious inroads in the PV landscape.   

Industry Consolidation and Shake Out.  Are We Done Yet?

Years of consolidation look to be nearing the end for CIGS.  In 2010 there were more than 25 companies that had plans for a GW or more of CIGS capacity, but only one (Solar Frontier) achieved that goal.  Most of the others are now either defunct or have been acquired.  

In fact, in the years after the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent brutal shakeout of research-based companies, there were serious questions as to whether any new capacity would be added beyond the 3 GW in production at the time.  

The difference today is that the CIGS landscape has shifted from small start-ups to large corporations.  At this point, TSMC, Hanergy, and Solar Frontier are the only companies in the field with ready access to the capital necessary for the next round of factory construction.

Several recent announcements by these companies show their commitment to the technology.  Solar Frontier announced in December 2013 plans for a new 150-MW plant.  Hanergy, in January 2014, announced long-term plans to install 3 GW of capacity, beginning with two 300-MW plants. TSMC has over 40 MW in production, which is currently being fully utilized. An additional 120 MW will be entering production by the end of 2014. While the company’s expansion plans are strong, they are currently less aggressive than the original 2011 plan to have 1 GW in place by 2015. 

There is currently little or no new capacity being built outside of these three companies, however. Solexant recently came out of stealth mode as a CIGS company named Siva Power and is trying to raise money for a 300-MW line.  Its goal is to realize a 40-cent-per-watt price point.   

With respect to production technology, printed CIGS, which was highly touted as the low-cost method for CIGS deposition, no longer has a viable backer since Nanosolar exited the market in 2013.  It now looks like batch and roll-to-roll sputtering are the most manufacturable methods for CIGS deposition.  Electrodeposition is also a possible method for low-cost, lower volume production. 

Enter Fresh Capital:  TSMC and Hanergy 

This report looks at how the growing interest in CIGS "this time around" differs substantially from last time, and at the proven fundamentals that will determine whether CIGS can achieve the volumes and money it aims for.  One thing that seems to be in favor of success this time is the entry of large, well-funded companies with extensive high-volume manufacturing experience.  Both TSMC and Hanergy have the funding and the experience to move into the CIGS area and be successful.  The shift from a VC start-up model to a large corporate model should bode well for CIGS success. 

Hanergy is continuing its buying spree of smaller CIGS companies.  In mid-2013, the company acquired Global Solar Energy and its line of flexible BIPV and portable charging products.  In the past year, Hanergy also purchased MiaSole and Solibro.  

The firm is committed to building out up to 10 gigawatts of capacity and is running both MiaSole’s roll-to-roll sputtering process and Solibro’s batch co-evaporation process.  It will be interesting to see if the company settles on one or the other or maintains both.  

TSMC, meanwhile, runs technology licensed from Stion. 

Higher Efficiency and More Flexible Modules: the Path to Market Share for CIGS?

A significant milestone for CIGS was achieved in October 2013 when ZSW (Center for Solar Energy at Baden-Wurttemberg) eclipsed the efficiency of polysilicon-based cells (20.4 percent) with a 20.8 percent efficient CIGS cell.  A large part of the appeal of CIGS—now and in the past—is that it is well-suited to building on flexible substrates.  Adding high efficiency approaching that of silicon just increases its value proposition.  

The various manufacturing aspects that make the use of flexible substrates possible are pointed out in the main body of this report, but we point out here that the use of flexible substrates means two things for CIGS' commercial prospects.  First, it enables the production of flexible devices with twice the efficiency of existing amorphous silicon flexible products.  Second, flexible CIGS also promises money savings through roll-to-roll manufacturing and the use of flexible substrates that are cheaper than glass.

For flexible CIGS, however, there are questions that must be addressed.  Will flexible PV devices really be as big a market segment as the CIGS manufacturers and developers say they will be?  Will roll-to-roll manufacturing produce real savings in manufacturing costs?  And will the CIGS devices and processes be better than flexible options based on other PV technologies, mainly thin-film silicon?  We discuss these issues in detail in this report.

CIGS and BIPV: A Match Made for Rooftops?

CIGS became very closely associated with BIPV even in its earliest days, and this relationship has not been diminished by the economic crisis and recession.  Flexibility has always been a part of the value proposition of CIGS, at least for some applications, and in some cases the applications are enabled by that flexibility itself.  

Flexible BIPV products fall squarely in this category and represent the highest volume and money-making prospects for flexible CIGS.  This flexible BIPV sector is currently filled only by thin-film silicon-based products, which, while slightly lower in cost, have much lower efficiencies than competing CIGS products.  We pay special attention to products like the Dow Powerhouse shingle, which certainly seems to have the potential of being a breakthrough product.  Since its introduction in late 2011, the company has expanded sales of the product to 17 states at last count.  

But the BIPV market is not made up of only flexible products, so where are the CIGS-based rigid BIPV products?  While there is no technical reason that rigid CIGS could not be used for BIPV, those who have tried to date have failed, mainly due to increased encapsulation costs compared to silicon and CdTe modules with similar efficiencies.  With the exit of Wurth Solar from the ridged BIPV market in late 2013, it looks like this segment of the PV market will continue to be dominated by silicon-based products.  

There is also the question of how far BIPV can take CIGS as housing and construction markets continue to languish.  Certainly there are now pockets of growth in the construction industry, but with many of the CIGS-based BIPV products under development targeting consumers, it is uncertain whether CIGS-based BIPV will be a real growth segment compared to, say, conventional panels.

Flexible CIGS' Achilles Heel: Lifetimes and Encapsulation

Despite all of the excitement surrounding flexible CIGS-based BIPV products, the most substantial barrier to these products' viability—beyond the question of whether they can be manufactured cost-effectively in high volume—which is their sensitivity to moisture, cannot be ignored.  

Conventional panels and other rigid products don't have this problem, because they can be effectively encapsulated in impermeable glass. Flexible CIGS development, on the other hand, has required the simultaneous development of robust, reasonably-priced, flexible encapsulation.

We examine the status of flexible encapsulation development for CIGS and look at how it is influencing the commercialization of flexible CIGS products, both in terms of timing and the types of products. We also explore the question of whether the ability to make flexible products will get ahead of the ability to exclude moisture from them and give them the lifetimes they need for market viability.  

Will the money spent on better flexible encapsulation translate into more money for manufacturers, or is it best to leave lifetimes a bit shorter if the costs are too high?  Reliability has greatly improved for CIGS flexible cells, but more work needs to be done to reduce costs to make it competitive with ridged modules.  

Flexible Glass Firms Branch into New Applications
Published: April 23, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Advanced Materials

Flexible glass seemed like a natural fit for the display industry, combining the impermeability of glass with the flexibility of plastic. In 2012 it appeared as though flexible and ultrathin glass companies were going to benefit from the explosion of touch screens in displays of all sizes.  Unfortunately, the market took a different turn.  Now suppliers of ultrathin and flexible glass are looking for applications beyond displays to bring in revenue in the next few years, and one of the places they are looking is in semiconductor packaging.

For those who approach flexible glass from the point of view of a display, an application where the glass is hidden between layers of silicon and other materials may not seem to make a lot of sense.  As far as NanoMarkets can tell, no one really thought about semiconductor packaging as a use for flexible glass until the display market failed to emerge as an opportunity.

Nonetheless, using ultrathin glass in semiconductor packaging may actually be a very good idea, even though its optical properties and flexibility are irrelevant in this application.

The Role of Glass in Interposers

For many years the semiconductor packaging industry has been developing packages that are smaller, thinner, and lighter than what has come before. Ultrathin glass, 30 to 100 μm, may be able to further progress toward this goal.

The target application is 2.5D or 3D multi-chip or chip scale packages (CSP), where semiconductor chips are placed in close proximity or stacked on top of each other to provide a space-saving configuration. Such packages traditionally use a layer of thinned silicon as an interposer to connect chips to each other and to the underlying organic substrate. Silicon has the advantage of being a familiar material with a well-established infrastructure in the semiconductor packaging industry, but it does have some drawbacks, the major one being cost.

Glass may be preferable to silicon as an interposer because it is a less expensive material, it can be provided in thin sheets (silicon has to be ground and polished to the proper thickness) and it is thermally insulating. Silicon is a semiconductor, not an electrical insulator, which can cause problems with crosstalk between chips.

Silicon conducts heat better than glass, making the semiconductor industry a bit suspicious of the ability of glass to conduct heat sufficiently to avoid hot spots in sensitive ICs. The answer is in the through-glass vias (TGV), channels drilled through the interposer that are filled with metal (usually copper) and form electrical connections between the chip and the organic substrate. Solid filled vias act like heat pipes to provide a path for heat conduction.

The potential cost advantages of glass can best be achieved using large sheets of glass, thus allowing facilities to process more units in parallel than is possible with silicon wafers. The largest possible cost savings of using flexible glass is realized if it can be integrated into a roll-to-roll production process. Several suppliers are producing flexible glass on rolls, but the semiconductor industry is not necessarily prepared to process it.

Re-evaluating the Supply Chain

While glass may be a compelling interposer material from the point of view of glass makers, lack of infrastructure in this application is a real problem. In order for glass to be useful as an interposer, someone needs to drill vias through the glass and metallize them, and it is not yet clear who that would be. Several industries could participate in the supply chain, but there are barriers in all cases:

Semiconductor packaging houses: This industry is not used to working with glass and is not inclined to do so. It is very resistant to change and may be especially averse to implementing R2R processing. Convincing semiconductor packaging facilities to process glass will clearly be an uphill battle.

Flat-panel display manufacturers: These companies have experience with glass but have not historically had anything to do with semiconductor packaging. It may be possible to build awareness in this sector, but the flat panel display industry prefers to sell large pieces of glass.

Printed circuit board manufacturers: The PCB industry currently makes organic interposers, geared toward applications where fine pitch is not required. Glass suppliers might be able to work with the PCB industry, which is used to large panels, if they want to supply sheets of glass. It still may be difficult, however, to implement very thin glass using this approach. It also will probably be difficult to integrate TGV production into a PCB-like process flow.

Organizations that are promoting ultrathin glass interposers are attempting to address the infrastructure challenge:

Georgia Tech: The Packaging Resource Center (PRC) at Georgia Tech has been working with industry partners on glass interposers since 2010 and has moved from initial trials with 180-μm thick glass down to the thinnest products that today’s glass suppliers are producing. The PRC is working with major glass suppliers such as Corning and Schott, who are interested in flexible glass interposers.

The PRC has been working on transferring the technology from prototype to low volume, and perhaps eventually high volume, commercial production. It has made some real progress in developing the technology and moving prototyping from labs into industry, but admits that the greatest challenge in moving forward is lack of infrastructure to support the transition.

Triton: Triton Micro Technologies, a subsidiary of nMode solutions that is partially funded by Asahi Glass Company, is providing some missing segments in the supply chain. Triton has developed a production process to create through glass vias (TGVs) that is sufficient for today’s 2.5D applications and it is making interposers for MEMS, RF, and optics at its manufacturing facility in Carlsbad, CA. According to Triton, the major advantage it provides over silicon is the ability to produce solid filled, hermetic TGVs.

Existing commercial products use glass interposers from Triton, but this is much thicker glass, typically 0.3 mm or greater. The glass is cut into wafers, matching the form factor of silicon but not requiring backgrinding. This provides the convenience of a process that fits easily into existing manufacturing lines but doesn’t take advantage of glass’ potential to provide thinner interposers at much lower cost than silicon. Triton can make large panels of 0.1-mm glass with TGVs, but customers do not know how to handle it and may not be inclined to learn.

NanoMarkets understands the potential advantage thin glass would have as an interposer, but is not especially optimistic about its future, especially in the near term. It seems very unlikely that flexible glass will be able to generate large revenues in this space, even if penetration rates get large. Each product uses a very small amount of glass compared to what would be needed for even a smart phone display.

The semiconductor packaging industry may be an even more difficult environment for introducing new processes than the display industry, and we know flexible glass has had challenges there. Still, we feel this sector is worth keeping an eye on to see if glass has an opportunity to succeed where silicon has not.

What of the Commercial Future of Smart Windows?
Published: April 09, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

NanoMarkets has been following the fortunes of the smart windows sector for six years now.  In that time we have seen few if any great leaps forward either in terms of market expansion or in terms of technology.  This judgment remains true whether one considers "smart widows" to include only "self-tinting" windows (the most common definition) or whether one adopts a broader definition of smart windows that includes self-healing and self-cleaning windows.  

Rich Niche and Beyond

As NanoMarkets sees it, smart windows are at the present time stuck in a niche scenario in which they are mainly the "playthings of the rich:"  

•    Thus in construction markets these windows are most obviously associated with "prestige buildings," where they are often installed to show off how sustainable the construction is.  

•    In cars, the use of smart windows is most closely associated with luxury cars.  In fact, the only brand of car where smart windows are consistently used at the present time are Mercedes automobiles.

•    PDLC technology is marketed as privacy glass, but again, this is something of a luxury product.

It seem quite plausible to us that smart windows' current niche will not be transcended.  There are plenty of building and automotive products that never make it out of the "rich niche."

Nonetheless, NanoMarkets is more optimistic about the commercial future of smart windows.  The reason for NanoMarkets' bullishness is that (absent some kind of energy technology breakthrough) the real price of energy seems likely to increase over the coming decade.  In this environment we think that smart windows (in conjunction with smart lighting and BIPV) will become a critical enabling technology for energy cost reduction:

•    Whether specifically under the name "zero net energy buildings" or something similar, the trend towards construction of buildings that use no more energy than they produce seems unstoppable.  In part, this is because of building codes and national regulations that promote this.  However, with the rising cost of energy we think that smart windows may increasingly make sense when the home owner, building manager, etc., makes basic calculations about energy costs and uses.  Smart windows can (1) allow lighting to be used more cost effectively through improved light management and (2) cut down on the use of air conditioning and perhaps even heating through improved thermal management

•    Something similar can be expected in automobiles and most of the points raised about buildings also apply to cars and trucks.  However, automobiles will increasingly adopt smart windows primarily to keep interiors cool and cut down on the need for air-conditioning on sunny days, while letting as much light as possible through on gloomy ones. 

While, the drivers listed above are the main factors that NanoMarkets believes will take smart windows out of their niche status, this is not the whole of the story.  In particular, we expect these primary drivers for smart windows to combine with more traditional ones—especially the need to reduce glare in the summer while not obscuring visibility in the winter.  

We also note that some products that we take to be within the scope of smart windows are not driven by the primary reasons.  Most importantly, they do not apply to smart mirrors, which has an entirely different market dynamic.  In addition, PDLC privacy glass is not an environmental/sustainability play in the way that the other smart glass technologies are.

Electrochromics Rises

The rest of the smart windows technologies that we list in Exhibit 1-1 will compete for the expanded addressable market defined by the core drivers for smart windows mentioned above.  Perhaps some of these technologies will ultimately fall by the wayside.  On the other hand there may be no single winner.

That said, we think that within what passes for the mainstream of smart windows, the one technology that stands out is electrochromic smart windows: electrochromic materials are currently available as both smart electrochromic glass and electrochromic film.  What electrochromics brings to the table is a list of positives that we believe will combine to position electrochromic materials as the materials of choice for smart windows in many instances.  The "pros" for electrochromic windows include the following:

•    Electrochromic windows are an active technology.  They can therefore be controlled directly by humans or building automation systems for maximum comfort and energy control.  The fact that these windows are active does add to cost somewhat.

•    Low technological risk.  Electrochromic materials are already widely used in auto mirrors, so much is already understood about their performance and capabilities 

•    Potentially low cost. Electrochromic windows are fabricated with non-exotic materials such as conductive polymers and metal oxides. Prices of electrochromic windows remain high reflecting the early stage of the self-tinting windows market, but there is plenty of opportunity for price declines in the future 

•    Long product life.  Electrochromic materials are typically not easily degraded by light, adding to the life of the window; lifetimes being an obviously important factor for any building product.

•    Low power requirements. Although smart windows based on electrochromic materials need to be powered, this is not a major drawback.  According to NREL, powering 1,500 square feet of color-changing glass (about 100 windows) would require less power than a 75-watt light bulb.  Using a small solar panel to do the powering is a distinct possibility, making the electrochromic window essentially self-powering

At least four companies are actively pursuing the development of electrochromic windows, Sage, View, Chromogenics and US e-Chromic.  At least two of these companies—Sage and View—are already shipping and both have access to extensive marketing and financial resources. So the bottom line with electrochromic windows is that they represents a highly functional technology that is at, or near, full commercialization.

While there are no certainties, NanoMarkets also thinks there is some potential money available for the further development of electrochromic windows:

•    Sage is especially to be watched because it is now part of the Saint-Gobain group and can muster both the money and the supply channel strength that being part of a huge multinational offers it.  In fact, Sage had been well funded even before it was fully acquired by Saint-Gobain and it continues to announce new customers on a frequent basis.  

•    View (which used to be Soladigm) also has some customers, as well as investment that includes money from Corning and GE.  View also has an alliance with Corning that NanoMarkets believes will help View move forward both technically and at the marketing/supply chain level.

•    We think that another company worth watching in this context is Gentex, which dominates the electrochromic self-dimming mirror space.  Gentex's electrochromic technology is not completely suited to smart windows.  But Gentex is a large company that has already made windows for airliners.  So, if the smart windows market grows fast, Gentex's entry would not be a complete surprise.

And the Others: Thermochromic and Photochromic Materials, SPD and PDLC

As the Exhibit at the beginning of this Chapter indicates, electrochromic windows are, by no means the only kind of smart windows, and our apparent favoring of electrochromic windows does not mean that NanoMarkets thinks that these other technologies will in any way fade away. Some of the alternatives look quite attractive from the perspective of future revenue generation, although others do not.

SPD:  As we have mentioned, SPD windows are already in Mercedes cars and have also been used in BMW prototypes.  This technology must be thought of as having the proverbial "first mover's advantage" in the automotive space. 

But it is difficult at this point to gauge the future of smart auto glass.  SPD could well establish itself as the way to go in this space and the owner of the SPD intellectual property – Research Frontiers (RFI) – has made it clear that it sees automotive as the key opportunity for its technology and intends to promote it in this area.  

The open question is the degree to which SPD might be overtaken by some other less proprietary technology.  For example, now that Gentex has made tentative steps into the smart windows business could it leverage its huge existing strengths in the automotive segment to launch a range of smart window products for cars and trucks.

PDLC:  Some of the interviewees for NanoMarkets' ongoing smart windows research have told us that they don't think of PDLC as a smart windows technology at all.  What they seem to have meant by this is that PDLC is not a "green technology" designed to create energy efficiency and better lighting, but simply a way of turning glass dark to enhance privacy for meetings and so on.

The good news about all this is that PDLC operates in an entirely different addressable market than the other kinds of smart window technologies discussed in this report and, as such, is relatively free from competition.  The bad news is that it isn't driven by the core environmental factors listed at the beginning of this chapter and relies on the need for privacy glass.  

While there may well be factors that will promote privacy glass in the future, they are unlikely to be as powerful as the environmental drivers that push the use of the other kinds of smart glass.

Passive smart windows and their enhancements:  Passive smart windows technologies, by definition, do not offer the same degree of user control over tinting that can be provided by active smart windows.  Instead, they are sold on price and low power usage.  

As we discuss in the main body of this report, we think that passive smart windows don't really have enough going for them on a functionality level to ever get much market traction outside of niches such as the automotive aftermarket.  That said, such niches certainly do exist and there is, NanoMarkets believes, some opportunities for semi-proprietary passive smart windows technologies to generate modest amounts of revenues:

•    Thus, SWITCH Materials has developed a smart windows technology using a class of photochromic materials, developed at Simon Fraser University in Canada.  This firm is pitching its smart windows at the automotive window business where it believes that high switching speeds, low cost and the ability to fit in with curved surfaces will give it an advantage over electrochromic materials.  

•    PPG and Pleotint jointly market a commercial window glass system that combines Pleotint's thermochromic technology with PPG glass. 

Smart Windows Industry Structure:  Still Evolving 

As NanoMarkets sees it, the smart windows business is getting quite crowded and we think that it will take more than just a strong materials platform to win in the smart windows sector going forward.  It will take money and strong partnerships.

As far as we can tell, there does not seem to be high levels of investment in the smart windows space today, which NanoMarkets sees as a problem.  But we note that the big glass companies seem to be interested enough to possibly be a source of funding for the future of the smart windows sector in the future.  There is also a chance that specialty chemical firms—principally those involved with coatings—might get in on the smart windows act, both in the form of a visible part of a business ecosystem and as a source of finance.  

We are still at an early enough stage in the development of the smart windows business for an investment by a large company to transform the business in terms of market leadership and even in terms of which smart windows technologies really matter in the marketplace.  It may even be that enough money thrown at a particular technology will lift it to a market leader that one might not have predicted based on its market share alone.

The Smart Lighting Market Is Transitioning
Published: April 08, 2014 Category: Smart Technology

The smart lighting market is undergoing a transition that we expect will lead to expanded opportunities for many different types of companies. The older generation of so-called smart lighting systems—really no more than lighting management systems—that were not much more than motion sensors and timers has evolved into systems that are much smarter. The smart home and smart office of the future that has existed in the imagination of writers and futurists seems really to now be on the horizon, thanks to advances in technology that are leading to the availability of more features at lower prices. 

Several trends that NanoMarkets highlighted in our 2013 smart lighting report have recently become even more relevant. The primary among these is increased use of LEDs, driven by both technology improvements in LEDs and regulations aimed at increasing energy efficiency in lighting. 

One of the main selling points about smart lighting has always been its ability to improve energy efficiency, and this remains an important aspect. Real energy costs remain high and are not likely to decrease any time soon and we are seeing more emphasis on the need to conserve energy and expand into alternative energy sources. Smart lighting continues to be boosted by this trend.

In order to continue its potential market growth and profitability trajectory, however, smart lighting will need to evolve technologically and smart lighting providers will need to differentiate themselves in the market and create products that offer more than just a lower energy bill. Companies are working in that direction with systems that add features not previously available:

•    Lighting to improve health and mood. While this is not yet available in commercial systems, the technology is ready to launch and we expect to see more of this type of function available everywhere from hospitals (which will probably be the earliest adopters) to office buildings.  We think that 2014 and 2015 will be the take-off years for such products.

•    Improved connectivity. This includes the trend toward more options for wireless systems, different options for Internet connectivity (central control versus connectivity for each individual light fixture), and compatibility with the cloud for collecting and distributing data. This is a differentiating feature for smart lighting systems but also brings the smart lighting business into conformance with the Internet-of-Things (IoT) meme.

LED Adoption Driving Changes in Smart Lighting

The primary technology change driving the evolution of smart lighting is improvements in LEDs and their increased usage in lighting systems of all kinds. This trend has been brewing for a while but is now reaching a tipping point.  Lighting management systems have been around for many years and have been—and still are—available for CFL and even incandescent lighting.  

Nonetheless, smart lighting is being increasingly associated with LED-based lighting, which makes sense. LEDs are semiconductor devices and therefore inherently more controllable than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. It is possible to integrate control and communication hardware and software directly into the bulbs, something that wasn’t an option with older types of lighting.  In addition, LEDs have been strongly touted as, above all, energy efficient.  NanoMarkets’ sense of the market is that when LEDs reach a certain stage of technological maturity (and lower prices points) they will quickly replace CFLs as the way to go in energy-efficient lighting.  So LEDs are increasingly what smart lighting is all about because of both their controllability and their inherent energy efficiency. 

One example is improved color control for both cool and warm white light. This is enabling a new generation of smart lighting systems that takes into consideration the effects of lighting on health and mood and are designed to specifically address those needs. LEDs can also allow for extremely precise color control. It remains to be seen how fine this control needs to be to achieve beneficial effects; it warrants further study to determine how to best use the capabilities of LEDs to improve health and mood.

In addition, although LEDs have been available for some time, they are now producing a quality of light that is helping them overcome the perception of LEDs as cold and dull. Advances in LEDs themselves is beyond the scope of this report, but these advances have helped expand their use and therefore expand the possibilities of smart lighting. 

New Regulations and Guidelines Affect Lighting

State and national regulations governing lighting definitely play a role in how the smart lighting industry has been evolving. The California Energy Commission’s Title 24 standards are one example, which may inform how things are done in other parts of the U.S. and also the rest of the world.

With regard to the California regulations, new requirements governing energy efficiency took effect at the beginning of 2014, and they are much more stringent than the 2008 standards. All luminaires in commercial buildings need to incorporate multi-level controls or continuous dimming. The new version of the standard also addresses daylighting controls and requires occupancy sensors in a wide range of indoor spaces, from offices to classrooms to indoor parking areas. Title 24 adds automatic scheduling controls to outdoor lighting systems, in addition to the photocontrols that were previously required.  In effect this is a regulatory mandate requiring something resembling smart lighting.

The Title 24 residential code updates requirements for efficacy of luminaires and requires occupancy sensors for luminaires that do not meet the criteria. Although Title 24 only applies to installations in California, similar regulations exist in New York, and we expect a push toward increased regulations throughout the U.S. leading to national standards.

The New Buildings Institute also recently updated the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) to include more stringent requirements for lighting. The 2015 IECC will build upon guidelines in the 2012 document regarding daylighting and lighting controls. Occupancy sensors and daylighting controls will now be required in more types of buildings, including warehouses. These types of requirements drive the industry to find more cost-effective ways to implement the rules and spur development of better products.

These regulations can help companies that produce smart lighting systems because customers no longer have a choice whether to implement energy-efficient lighting. But they do have a choice in which vendor to use, so it is important for companies to differentiate themselves in terms of design choices, features, and price points. 

Evolving Market Strategies in the Smart Lighting Space

When NanoMarkets last published a report on smart lighting, the large lighting companies were for the most part not actively pursuing smart lighting, or at least were doing so only behind the scenes without making any public announcements about developments in that direction. Philips was possibly the exception, and we predicted that other lighting companies would follow suit. That has indeed come to pass, with all of the major lighting companies moving beyond luminaires into designing systems that enable communication between luminaires and incorporate a lot of the trends that we see happening in the smart lighting industry.

In the past year or so we have seen some consolidation in the industry, with several of the start-up firms we profiled in last year’s report either going out of business or being acquired by larger lighting or control system firms looking to expand their offerings in smart lighting. This trend is likely to continue, especially with companies like GE, Philips, and Osram showing an increased emphasis on smart lighting solutions that tie into what they already provide. In addition, NanoMarkets notes that we have also seen growing interest in smart lighting from outside the smart lighting sector proper:

•    Semiconductor chip manufacturers have also long produced LED chips (drivers), but NanoMarkets is now seeing increasing interest in smart lighting in this sector. What is new in the past year is a greater emphasis on promoting chips that are specifically designed for smart lighting systems. Such chips may be embedded in an LED fixture or reside within a central controller.

•    Similarly, lighting control systems firms have always used software to control their systems, but today’s software does more than just control lights via a timing circuit. It controls precise dimming and sends data to local computers, or, in a trend we see growing significantly, to the cloud for remote access by building managers and others looking to track data and use them to optimizing system settings.

•    Until recently, Honeywell was the only building automation company that had expanded into lighting in any measureable way. Merging building automation with lighting automation makes a lot of sense, but traditional building automation companies have not historically shown much of an interest in smart lighting applications. That is starting to change. Trane, for example, is now collaborating with GE to integrate lighting and building controls. 

Metal Mesh Competitive as Transparent Conductor for Large Panels
Published: April 02, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials

Metal meshes – previously not under serious consideration as transparent conductors (TCs) because of their lack of transparency – have now overcome their performance limitations and are seen as serious competition for ITO in several applications, especially those that require large panels for displays, lighting, or solar energy. Bringing metal meshes into larger displays can be a way for metal mesh manufacturers to increase their revenue streams, which now are constrained because the markets that they are chasing, such as touch screen sensors, are not very large.

Metal Mesh TCs in Large Displays

The reasons to use metal mesh in large OLED displays are the same as for smaller displays – lower sheet resistance and potentially lower cost compared to ITO – and these factors become more of a concern the larger the display.

One big advantage for metal meshes in large OLED displays is the ability to spread out voltage uniformly over a large area. Metal meshes also eliminate the tradeoff between electrical conductivity and transmittance that is a problem when using ITO in these applications. Metal meshes can therefore provide a performance advantage, creating panels with more uniform and greater brightness.

TVs are probably the most obvious application requiring large screens, but there are others that may be compelling for metal mesh manufacturers. Niche applications that may increasingly use large touch screen panels include digital signage, advertising, gaming tables, and vending machines. Many of these, such as kiosks and slot machines, require curved screens. This is a place where the option of roll-to-roll processing could give metal mesh an advantage over other materials.

Advertising displays that incorporate touch have historically used IR technology, which does not require any TC. Recently, however, some large-format, interactive display screens have begun to use projective capacitive (pro-cap) technology. The electrodes are grids of fine metal wires behind a glass substrate – metal meshes. Unlike most metal meshes, these are not produced on plastic substrates such as PET, but flexible displays of this sort could certainly use PET films. This opens up opportunities for several alternative TCs fabricated on PET, including metal meshes.

Advertising displays are currently a very low volume market for TCs in terms of numbers of units, but each display uses a lot of area – up to several square meters. So even though this is not an area that the mainstream metal mesh companies are chasing in the short term, it could eventually be a reasonable source of revenue.

The transparency requirements for applications such as advertising are not as demanding as in handheld touch screen products. This could help metal mesh materials gain market share. Although it is true that interest in metal meshes is growing because the technology has improved to the point where companies can produce very fine pitches with invisible mesh, there is still a perception among some in the display industry that other TCs outperform meshes in transparency.

Companies Producing Industrial Displays

In the OLED TV space, the companies to watch are Samsung and LG. For industrial displays the players are not household names, but they have some products that may be able to expand the possibilities for metal meshes as TCs. These include:

Visual Planet: This company produces a pro-cap touch screen film called a touchfoil that appears to be based on metal mesh and is intended for large industrial displays. The company says it can manufacture the foils in sizes ranging from 30 to 167 inches diagonal. Visual Planet added multi-touch capability in 2011.

The touchfoil is usually applied to a glass substrate and can work with glass up to 25 mm thick, though it could work through any other nonmetallic surface as well. This opens up the opportunity for metal meshes on PET for curved displays, although the advantage of glass is protection from environmental damage and vandalism, as these displays are designed for outdoor and public usage.

Visual Planet envisions expanding possible applications of its technology to use in interactive museum displays, movie theaters, and more. The touchfoil product is interesting, but we do not see evidence that the market is yet ready for it. As touch continues to become more prevalent everywhere and consumers start to expect that every screen will be interactive, however, there could be a chance for companies like Visual Planet to engage a new generation of customers and grow as well.

Zytronic: Zytronic also manufactures pro-cap touch screens for industrial markets. The company has been producing pro-cap screens for ATMs for over a decade. It has also produced touch panels for interactive signs and maps, advertising kiosks, outdoor bulletin boards, vending machines, human/machine interfaces in factories, gas pumps, and more. The company is emphasizing its ability to create very large displays, up to 1 meter wide and 2 meters long – advertising applications can require screens this large.

All of Zytronic’s sensors are embedded behind glass. Its technology is based on printed metal meshes, 10 μm wide. Zytronic recently added mulit-touch capability so that up to ten users can access the screen at once. The sensors can operate behind fairly thick glass, up to 20 mm. The company says it can support curved screens, where the substrate might be an ultra thin glass or a thicker glass formed into a curved shape.

Challenges for Metal Mesh

Adding potential applications is a route toward increased revenue for metal mesh suppliers, but there are still hurdles to be overcome in perception, performance, and cost. Customers are reluctant to switch from the incumbent ITO and may feel that alternative TCs such as metal meshes are risky. Demonstration of successful products should help suppliers make headway.

Performance of metal meshes has improved a lot in the past year or so, but the challenge is to demonstrate performance in high volume production of large panels. The difficulties certain manufacturers have faced in scaling their processes have made customers a little wary. The fine metal meshes required for display applications are more difficult to produce than coarser meshes, which contributes to yield concerns and higher prices.

This is where industrial display applications have an advantage over consumer display applications– the optical requirements are not as stringent, allowing coarser grids to be perfectly acceptable. We do warn, however, that the market for TCs in large industrial displays is very small at present, so metal mesh suppliers are much more likely to see revenue from other applications in the next couple of years. Applications like advertising are, however, a reasonable longer-term goal.

Metal meshes will need to be cost-competitive in order to succeed. Profit margins in small displays are small or nonexistent, so metal mesh manufacturers that can break into markets for larger displays may have a better chance for survival in the long run. Even relatively small displays, such as those for all-in-one computers, are more lucrative than the smart phone market. But for all applications, cost will need to come down. Manufacturers say they are cost-competitive with ITO, but they will need to be priced lower than ITO to really be competitive. 

Wearable Devices Expanding the Market for Thin Film Batteries
Published: March 27, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics

The new generation of wearable and flexible gadgets such as smart watches, glasses, and fitness trackers, all require batteries that are flexible and small enough to fit into these devices. This could give a big boost to the prospects for thin film and printed batteries, but it’s not yet clear which companies will benefit most.  Existing thin film (TF) battery suppliers may be able to leverage their expertise, but OEMs are pursuing wearable applications and developing their own batteries, posing a threat to the TF battery suppliers.

While multiple large and influential companies are pursuing TF battery technology, two in particular seem well-positioned and motivated to go after the wearable electronics sector: LG Chemical and Apple.

LG Chemical Expanding its Offerings

LG Chemical has its eye on new battery technologies and announced in October 2013 that it had succeeded in producing batteries with different shapes. Among these are stepped batteries, a design that stacks two or more batteries on top of each other in a stepped configuration to adapt to mobile devices of various shapes, and curved batteries, which are a natural fit for curved devices. Stepped batteries may be helpful for mobile phones but are not especially desirable for wearable devices. Curved batteries could be an option but may not be flexible enough.

While LG is already manufacturing stepped and curved batteries, it has another technology in the works that seems perfectly suited for use in watch bands. The company is planning to produce cable batteries, which are flexible, waterproof, and can even be tied into a knot. This versatility makes them compatible with wearable devices, and they were in fact designed with exactly this market in mind. NanoMarkets sees this as a compelling technology that may enable growth in the wearable devices market.

The company is definitely aiming at increasing its market share in various battery technologies, including those directed at the wearables market.  Given its brand name recognition and production capabilities, it could well be in a position to take business away from existing thin film battery suppliers.

Apple Eyeing Shaped Batteries

Apple is almost certainly going to be a key influencer of the wearables market, presumably through a smart watch project. The rumor mill has produced various possible concepts for an iWatch, and it’s hard to know what form such a watch will eventually take. But it will need a battery, and Apple’s patent application published in July 2013 detailing the creation of a flexible battery shape suggests Apple’s interest in producing the battery itself.

Apple’s patent, which was filed in December 2011, covers a flexible battery pack that consists of several different cells connected through a laminate layer and is designed to be able to conform to meet the needs of flexible electronic devices. The patent also allows for a battery pack where certain cells are can be removed to incorporate cooling devices, flashes, or cameras, allowing the battery to fit more snugly into a small space.

While not all of Apple’s many patents lead to products, this does point the way toward the company entering the flexible battery market. It makes sense for Apple to have a vested interest in battery technology. Perhaps Apple could license the concept for its flexible battery pack to a subcontractor, opening the door for a smaller company to benefit from growth in batteries for wearable devices.

Prospects for Thin Film Battery Suppliers

Existing TF battery manufacturers have been struggling for a long time to develop products that the market will want to buy, but there is a window of opportunity with the growth of new product segments such as wearables. Small battery companies do, however, face a real threat from OEMs and a risk that the larger companies may run them out of business.

The story is not all gloomy, though, as there are multiple avenues the smaller firms can take. They may be able to forge partnerships with OEMs by convincing them that their years of expertise producing batteries are valuable. Such collaboration could take the form of a contract agreement, acquisition, or strategic investment from these influential firms.

If wearables eventually grab the interest of consumers the way cell phones have, the potential market is huge. This is likely to be some years off, but it is wise for battery manufacturers to plan ahead. Collaborating with OEMs can be a way for smaller firms to achieve the production volumes necessary to be considered a serious contender.

Regardless of whether TF battery manufacturers manage to succeed on their own or with the support of larger players, they will only be able to do so if they can provide batteries that are compatible with the needs of wearable devices. Flexibility alone is not sufficient, and suppliers that tried and failed to conquer the RFID space will need to develop new types of products that will work well in watches and other wearables. The companies who have been in the printed battery business the longest are not necessarily in a good position to succeed in getting their products into wearable devices.

Imprint Energy looks like the TF battery firm most likely to succeed in the wearable electronics market, because its printed zinc batteries can address the need to provide long-lasting, flexible batteries that can be recharged. The solid polymer electrolyte allows Imprint’s batteries to be rechargeable, something that has been a challenge for zinc batteries and is an enabling feature for wearable devices. Disposable printed batteries really aren’t suitable here.

Imprint’s Zincpoly™ technology is also less toxic compared to lithium ion batteries, a factor that is critical in medical implants but also provides an advantage in perception of safety for wearable devices marketed to consumers. This should help Imprint market its technology.

Although Imprint’s technology is compelling for the wearables market, it is a small company without the resources to scale up to high volume manufacturing.  A likely scenario is for it to follow the path of collaboration, either developing a partnership with a company that has sufficient manufacturing facilities or licensing its technology.

The Future of Batteries in Wearable Devices

The market for batteries in wearable devices is currently relatively small, but NanoMarkets forecasts significant growth in this sector, with revenue more than tripling over the next two years and increasing more dramatically through the end of the decade. This means potential opportunities for companies that can provide flexible, rechargeable batteries that can conform to whatever form factors the OEMs dream up and have reasonable power and battery life. If small companies want to get in on the action, they will need to act quickly before the OEMs start producing their own batteries custom-made to work with their specific products. 

How Phosphors Expand the Addressable Market for LEDs
Published: March 19, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials

The text of this article was drawn from the NanoMarkets report, "LED Phosphor Markets-2014

Phosphors are critical to the future of LEDs because they address the quality of LED lighting in fundamental ways:

  • Greater range of color – beyond combining blue LEDs with yellow phosphors to increase the quality of white light, there are opportunities for high-quality red phosphors to provide better color rendering.
  • Improved efficacy and lower cost – existing phosphors have been able to provide LEDs with 100 percent greater increase in LED efficacy and a 50 to 200 percent decline in price, and new phosphor materials may be able to do even better.

These characteristics of phosphors can help expand markets where LEDs are already gaining market share, such as general illumination, and also markets where performance concerns or consumer perception has limited the penetration of LEDs. Phosphor firms have an opportunity to make money out of this situation not just because they are an important enabling technology for LEDs but because existing phosphors are not necessarily up to the task at hand.  Some applications will require new phosphor materials with better performance.

Phosphors, LEDs and General Illumination

Advances in phosphors can grow the addressable market for LEDs in general illumination by providing solutions that help address the perception that LEDs are dull and cold.  This is one of the main reasons, why consumers avoid LEDs.

NanoMarkets expects reliable LEDs that can produce warm light and have long lifetimes will experience strong demand, and these will require phosphors that improve color rendering index (CRI) and efficacy. Without improvements enabled by phosphors, white LEDs will remain relatively unattractive, given their cooler color temperatures, allowing alternative lighting technologies to gain ground.

Phosphor suppliers and academic researchers are intensifying efforts to improve performance and are making progress toward enabling growth in this sector. They are going beyond traditional combination of blue LEDs and yellow phosphors to create white light that is more appealing in order to fully tap the market potential. For example:

GE is developing manganese-based red emitters with narrow line-width emission. These can overcome the problems that limit efficacy of existing broadband red emitters, namely emission in wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum.

New hybrid phosphors can help meet the demand for high brightness white LEDs. Europium(II)-dopes red nitrides combined with yellow cerium(III)-doped phosphors are promising.
Hybrid nitride/nitrogen oxide red/green phosphors are reliable and have high CRI, and production costs for these materials are decreasing.
Osram is combining blue LEDs with a green phosphor and combining it with a red or amber LED. This approach eliminates the requirement for the phosphor to produce red light, allowing Osram to use a green phosphor with high efficacy.

UV LEDs can be combined with red, green, and blue phosphors to produce white light. Mitsubishi claims a spectrum equivalent to sunlight using this approach.

Efforts like those described above, if successful and priced appropriately, may accelerate the pace at which consumers turn away from CFLs, halogens and the new breed of high-efficiency luminescent bulbs and embrace LEDs for general illumination.

LEDs and Television’s Problem:  How Phosphors Can Help

In general illumination phosphors present an opportunity to expand a nascent market for LEDs by making the quality of LED lighting more acceptable.  In the television market, phosphors can be the enabling technology to revive a mature market.

LED backlighting for televisions and other high-performance LCDs was the first applications for high-performance LEDs.  At first LED BLUs were a distinguishing feature for LCDs, but now all televisions and mobile displays use them.  So the market for BLUs is saturated.

However, NanoMarkets believes that a new breed of phosphors will be able to bring new life to the TV market by increasing the color gamut.  This could happen if phosphor suppliers can create narrower-emission phosphors.  Some of the phosphor materials in development for general illumination, especially red emitting phosphors, would also enable growth in the TV market.

In addition, new developments in phosphors could protect LED lit LCD displays from any competition that might appear from OLEDs.  However, suppliers will need to improve light uniformity across the color spectrum in order to succeed in the LCD space.

Niche Applications: Theatres and Museums

The high volume opportunities are clearly in applications like general lighting and displays, but some niche markets provide additional revenue opportunities that probably shouldn’t be ignored.

Consumer perception is critical in the theatre and studio lighting sector, and new phosphor materials may help pave the way for greater acceptance of LEDs in this sector.  The industry understands the energy and cost-savings potential with LEDs, but lighting designers feel that tungsten lights have an emotional appeal that LEDs do not.

Phosphor firms have the opportunity to make money by tailoring products for this segment. New phosphor solutions that provide precise control of blue, red, and far-red wavelengths may allow the theatre lighting industry to overcome its prejudice against LEDs and lead to increased penetration of LEDs in this sector.  Phosphors for this sector will have to be thermally stable and compatible with theatrical-grade dimming in order to succeed.

Cost is critical in the often cash-strapped theatre industry. LED suppliers will need to emphasize long-term cost savings – eliminating the need for frequent bulb replacement and lowering electric bills – in order to increase adoption rate. Of course, reducing up-front cost of LED bulbs wouldn’t hurt.

New phosphor materials can enable expansion into sectors that were previously off-limits to LEDs, such as museums. Blue light is absorbed rather than reflected by the yellows and browns of parchment, faded textiles, and ancient artifacts, which can cause damage. Innovative phosphor solutions, such as using violet or UV LEDs in combination with red, green, and blue phosphors to create white light, can help LEDs penetrate the museum lighting sector.

Companies are making inroads into getting LEDs into museums. For example, Osram announced that it will be retrofitting the lighting in the Sistine Chapel with LED-based fixtures in order to highlight the Michelangelo frescoes. LED-based lighting will enable higher luminance levels for iconic artwork while preserving the historically significant work and using 60 percent less energy.

Beyond the applications mentioned here, LEDs have the potential to have far-reaching effects in a broad range of diverse fields, and phosphor firms that develop new materials geared for specific applications in preparation for future demand may be rewarded.  We expect the greatest revenue growth by far in general illumination, from around $50 million in 2014 to over $250 million by 2021. LED phosphor revenues in other sectors are likely to be flat or decreasing over the same time period. But there are still opportunities to accelerate adoption of LEDs in these markets through the use of phosphors that can enable improved color control, better efficacy, and lower cost, allowing innovative firms to reap some benefit.

What’s New in Flexible Glass?
Published: March 10, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Advanced Materials

The outlook for flexible glass has changed dramatically since NanoMarkets last issued a report on flexible glass in December 2012. At the time of that report, flexible glass looked poised for commercial success in the display market – Corning had just seriously launched Willow Glass, other glass suppliers were producing ever thinner glass, and rumors were rampant about bendable or curved displays coming from major OEMs. These displays were supposedly going to feature flexible cover glass.

Flexible glass seemed to be a natural fit for the mobile display market, and NanoMarkets and many others assumed that the first significant revenues for flexible glass would come from the table and mobile phone manufacturers. It looked in 2012 as though 2013 would be the year when that prediction would come to fruition. Obviously, that did not happen, even though the selling points for flexible glass – lighter weight and potentially low cost compared to rigid glass – look on the surface to be exactly what the mobile communications and computing sector needs as smart phones get bigger and tablets become more prevalent.

Samsung and LG did indeed introduce smart phones with new form factors in 2013, but they were not flexible and were encased in plastic rather than glass. Clearly the OEMs have decided, at least for the short term, that other solutions better meet their needs. The decision to use plastic rather than glass put a huge dent in the flexible glass market, one from which it will be difficult to recover.

Some of the compelling reasons for using flexible glass, such as lighter weight and thinner form factor, are still valid. Glass is thermally stable and has excellent barrier performance, which make it of interest for OLED and PV applications. But difficulties in handling, whether in sheets or rolls, may be its downfall if flexible glass manufacturers cannot quickly improve its durability during processing and use. Glass is fragile, something that flexible glass manufacturers were downplaying in efforts to demonstrate its flexibility. It will often require additional coatings (polymer or ceramic) to impart durability and strength, potentially even beyond those already found on many electronic glass products.

The proposition that flexible glass is lower cost than other materials is a hard thing to sell right now. Yes, it uses less material than thicker glass and therefore reduces the BOM (potentially!), but that is not sufficient. The need for protective coatings adds cost and complexity to the product. In theory, roll-to-roll (R2R) processing of wide rolls of glass should provide reduced manufacturing cost and help the display industry scale to larger substrates, but it requires a significant capital investment that the display industry and others are not motivated to make.

Flexible glass manufacturers are, of course, quite aware that the display industry has not embraced their materials, perhaps, and are pursuing other applications that in some cases are very different from displays. They are casting a wide net with the hope that they will bring in some customers. These customers could come from industries that we covered in our 2012 report and also some that we did not foresee at the time.  (In fairness to us, apparently the flexible glass sector didn’t foresee them either.) But it is also possible that commercial applications will not materialize. Flexible glass has not lived up to its expectations and is now in the position of being a product searching for a market.

BIPV Glass Rebooted?
Published: February 27, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Renewable Energy

The turnaround in the PV (photovoltaic) sector has been visible since the second half of 2013. And while 2013 was not a great year the solar industry, including BIPV (Building-Integrated Photovoltaics) in general and BIPV glass in particular is beginning to pick up.  While many firms offering BIPV glass have gone under, the ones that emerged from the solar bust are still faced with the same problem; how to get their products into the mainstream construction market and not just prestige buildings.

The conventional use of architectural glass range from the mundane—windows and skylights—to the exotic, like building facades, curtain walls, atria, pergolas, and canopies. In any of these applications, BIPV glass could substitute for regular architectural glass.  BIPV glass is the largest part of the BIPV market, but BIPV itself still represents a tiny share of the solar panel market itself, so that isn’t saying that much.  In addition, despite its many advantages, BIPV (again including BIPV glass) has never managed to break out of the premium building product category and is used primarily on large corporate headquarters and homes of wealthy individuals.

It is quite possible to imagine that BIPV glass will stay that way—there are plenty of building products that never drop below the premium pricing that characterizes today’s BIPV glass.  However, such building products tend to support mostly medium-sized businesses that have little opportunity to grow.  Or sometimes these premium building products are supplied by small divisions of larger companies, but typically the same modest expectations apply to these divisions too.

However, the expectation has always been that BIPV—glass or other—was the way forward to get PV into a wide variety of buildings.  The main driver here was supposed to be aesthetics—a BIPV building is said to look nicer than one with large and very visible panels on the roof of a building.  Not all architects agree with this statement, but a lot of BIPV advocates hope that BIPV glass can actually help sell a building.

But for now, what everyone agrees on is that the cost of BIPV glass can be prohibitive.  Sharp, recently showcased solar window and balcony railings at PV Japan 2013. The windows will cost around $2,000 per square meter.  Clearly, to drive BIPV into the mainstream, costs are going to have to drop considerably and/or functionality will have to increase. Both approaches are plausible strategies.

In this context a number of approaches suggest themselves.  At one end of the scale, an obvious thought for BIPV glass firms is to bump up their marketing dollars for reaching architects; the main decision makers when it comes to BIPV glass.  At the other end are fanciful multifunctional strategies that combine (say) lighting and PV into a single panel and therefore spread the cost across several functionalities.  Although this kind of thing is on the cusp of being commercialized, it isn’t here yet.

Cost Strategies for BIPV Glass:  Design and Technology Strategies

Cost and design: Since all BIPV glass buildings are custom designed at the present time, cost can be reduced based on thoughtful design prior to the BIPV glass being built in.  For the reasons given above, it is hard to find a completely conventional building that has taken advantage of this, but an example of where design has helped reduce cost is the Future Business Centre, a new purpose-built business innovation center in Cambridge (U.K.) aimed at supporting the growth of environmental and community enterprises. 

The cost per square meter of PV glazing in this building is said to be only marginally higher than the conventional glazing on the building, Polysolar (U.K.), a local company, installed the solar PV glass façade, a curtain wall in the stairwell, using Polysolar’s double glazed amber tinted PV glass, and an opaque rainscreen cladding system to supplement the rooftop solar array.

This is not to say that the Future Business Centre is in some way unique, but is indicative of a hope that the very high current costs of BIPV glass can be designed out without making any very elaborate arrangements.

Cost and technology:  Another way to reduce cost is to use low cost fabrication and materials strategies.  In this context we note that Pilkington has an alliance with Dyesol to create BIPV glass using DSC PV.  Meanwhile, Heliatek, a German OPV firm, has signed a BIPV glass joint- development agreement with AGC Glass Europe.

These arrangements have several implications.  One is that really big glass firms are sufficiently interested in BIPV glass to become at least this involved.  The other is that OPV and DSC have been chosen, since this is a prima facie case for thinking that solution-processed PV layers are being considered as a way to lowering the cost of PV.

Color and Lack of It as a Way to Differentiate BIPV Glass 

Meanwhile, differentiating BIPV glass in the marketplace is not easy to do, since from the perspective of a building owner the BIPV glass per se may seem an undifferentiated commodity.  Long-term, many product/market strategies may be devised that will help differentiate BIPV glass.  However, at present NanoMarkets believes that two of the main differentiators are—paradoxically—enhanced transparency and enhanced color!

Colored BIPV:  BIPV glass is now available in various designs and colors.  Obviously, the less plain vanilla a BIPV glass product is, the more appealing it can become to possible customers.  This strategy may not turn BIPV glass into a mass market, but it does stand a chance at least of expanding the addressable market.  

An actual example of how this might work is SwissINSO, which has formed a joint venture with Acomet Solar (Switzerland) which is expert in metal and glass façade constructions.  The duo plan to offer colored solar panels to eliminate the problem of poor panel aesthetics that has hindered the development of PV and solar installations on roofs, building facades and architectural projects in general. They recently completed the first installation of light blue PV panels on a building façade, with several other projects contracted in Switzerland and the UK. 

Another example is provided by the solar windows made of colored amorphous silicon solar panels at Barcelona’s Schott Iberica building.  Geneva Airport also provides another instance of where colorful BIPV glass panels have been installed.

Transparency as a selling point:  Somewhat ironically, while color and tint may be a selling feature for BIPV glass, so might transparency.  The point here is that no BIPV glass can be completely transparent, since it must absorb light to function as a PV panel.  That said, a BIPV window that is more transparent rather than less is more likely to achieve larger markets. 

Transparency is normally achieved either (i) because the PV cell are so thin or laser grooved that it is possible to see through or (ii) because crystalline solar cells on the laminate are spaced so that light filters through the PV module and illuminates the room. The problem is that while more transparent panels are more likely to be acceptable to the end user, they are also more expensive.

Current and Future Markets for Nanosensors
Published: February 24, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Although NanoMarkets believes that medical applications for nanosensors represent the best hope of making money in the nanosensors space, we think that – precisely because medical devices are involved – consideration of the risks inherent in applications that impact human health will tend to impact the market in a somewhat negative way:

•    Nanomaterials have to be biocompatible and non-toxic, especially when they are used as in-vivo sensing applications. 

•    Toxicity issues have curtailed the use of quantum dots (QD) in the medical sector because of the cadmium content in these materials, and QDs have not so far been able to achieve their apparent potential in medical applications. 

•    Companies dealing with nanomaterials for sensors in medical applications need to consider toxicity, molecular characteristics, leachants, possible secondary reactions generating any toxic side products, and what happens when these materials degrade.

Regulatory factors influence the medical market, so companies dealing in substances that do not require FDA approval are best-positioned to succeed in this market. NanoMarkets sees compelling opportunities for nanosensors in the future to sell products not only to big industries or hospitals but also to consumers in their homes. Miniaturization has already paved the way for customization of technology and fabrication of nanobiosensors as point-of-care diagnostic tools. 

Coming Soon: Opportunities for Nanosensors in Environmental Monitoring, Military Applications and Food Management

Environmental Monitoring: Mandatory regulatory checks for waste-producing industries are driving interest in nanosensors for testing environmental samples and continued improvement in nanosensor design. In this context, there is an opportunity for nanosensors to enhance environmental safety, working as check zones for various polluting chemicals, including gases, solid particulates, and ions, along with biomolecules such as pathogenic microorganisms. 

Food Management: NanoMarkets believes that nanosensor firms have considerable opportunities to turn their products into indispensable testing methodologies to improve quality control for food and beverage production, transportation, packaging, and storage. Food management is a large industry that could eventually provide significant revenue for companies that can produce high volumes of effective nanosensors. 

The market for nanosensors in food management is, however, still very much in development and is expected to increase slowly with improvements in integration of microtechnology and nanotechnology. Once nanosensor companies can provide proof-of-concept, demand for these products is likely to materialize. 

Military Applications: NanoMarkets also believes that chemical nanosensors and nanobiosensors will also make a huge impact as security surveillance devices for detecting potential harmful explosives, chemicals, and biological warfare agents.  Political unrest and socio-economic disturbances are fast becoming indirect factors for the rise of nanosensors market since countries are willing to invest huge sums on security: In military applications, these sensing units can be deployed in war zones owing to their small size. 

Military applications can be very demanding, however, and reliability in this sector is critical. Nanosensors for military applications require exhaustive and extensive pre-testing to calibrate sensing parameters and ensure their ability to check multiple samples accurately and quickly, which could provide barriers to entry for companies that cannot meet the military’s stringent requirements.

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Smart Coatings Opportunities in Alternative Energy Markets
Published: February 24, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

Smart coatings on glass and other substrates have the potential to create added value in a huge range of applications, but this can only be realized if they can provide sufficient performance enhancement at the right price. In the energy industry, the key driver is the desire to improve energy efficiency, and this is especially true in the renewable energy sector. We expect to see increased demand for coatings for solar panels and wind turbines as photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy become more prevalent and improved efficiency and low maintenance costs become increasingly important.

Smart coatings in the PV sector can provide antimicrobial and self-cleaning properties that can prevent the accumulation of microbes, debris, and dust particles on solar panels, thereby increasing the useful life of the panels and improving the energy conversion efficiency. NanoMarkets believes that the established market for solar panels and the growing demand for improved power generation capabilities will create additional opportunities for self-cleaning multifunctional smart coatings in the photovoltaic market.

Coating requirements in the wind energy sector also focus on reducing the amount of debris and contamination to improve energy efficiency, but in this case the goal is to avoid damage to wind turbine blades. Protective self-repairing wind turbine coatings prevent damage from airborne particles and keep turbine blades clean and free from contamination. 

Going forward, the wind energy industry is expected to demand multifunctional self-healing and self-repairing coatings to reduce maintenance costs with minimal need for human intervention. NanoMarkets believes that the interest of the wind energy industry will boost research efforts in this domain, leading to the commercialization of these coatings.

An Emerging Market for Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

One problem with solar panels is that efficiency gradually decreases over the lifetime of the panel as accumulation of dust and debris limit the amount of light that can be absorbed by the solar cells. Manual cleaning is inconvenient and expensive, so self-cleaning films can provide a real value-added feature. 

Hydrophobic coatings appear to be an excellent solution for solar panels. They work like a shield, repelling water and preventing dirt and grime from clinging to the glass. Hydrophobic coatings are especially useful in rainy climates.

nanoShell in the U.K makes a silane-based hydrophobic coating. It repels water molecules much better than an uncoated panel, preventing debris like bird droppings and tree sap from sticking to the panel surface. It also improves PV efficiency in inclement weather and saline environments. 

One drawback with hydrophobic coatings is lifetime. Most of these coatings have a lifespan of only three to ten years in exterior applications, which is much shorter than the expected lifespan of a solar panel. The nanoShell material claims a lifetime of five years, after which the solar panel would presumably need a new coating application. This issue, along with high cost, limits market penetration of these materials.

The dominant coating material for PV applications, and in fact for all self-cleaning smart coating applications today, is titanium dioxide (TiO2). In the PV space, inorganic coatings based on TiO2 nanoparticles are designed to prevent dust accumulation. These have an advantage over hydrophobic coatings in that they can last 10 to 15 years.

Such coatings act as a photocatalyst, absorbing UV rays from sunlight, and can enhance the power generation capabilities of solar panels by as much as 25 percent. TiO2 coatings are hydrophilic and prevent water droplets from forming on the surface; instead, a thin film of water covers the entire surface to keep the surface clear and free from dust particles.

Hydrophilic coatings work in areas with an abundance of sunlight and frequent rainfall. The use of titanium dioxide also imparts stability to the coating. One limitation, however, is these coatings only break down organic dirt, not inorganic matter. These coatings are not effective in removing debris such as tree sap.

NanoMarkets believes that TiO2 coatings will continue to dominate the market for self-cleaning coatings in PV applications, despite limitations in the type of dirt they can remove. They cost much less than hydrophobic coatings and have a huge lifetime advantage, and this should be sufficient to ensure their continued dominance in this space. 

As solar energy production grows through the rest of the decade, so will the need for smart coatings in this sector. NanoMarkets forecasts the market for smart coatings for solar panels to grow significantly, from $50 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion by 2020.

Markets for Wind Turbine Protection

Wind turbine blades need to withstand especially harsh environmental conditions, and smart coatings that reduce wear and tear can enable turbines to run longer without maintenance, reducing operating costs. Research shows that airborne sand and rain droplets can reduce the energy output of typical wind turbines by up to 20 percent.

Some of the most established brands of wind turbine coatings are based on polyurethanes, but there is a trend in the industry toward smart coatings that do more than protect the wind turbine blades from the elements. These new coatings claim to actually repair minor damage to the blades, help operators detect the extent of damage to the blades, or increase energy generation efficiency.

One example is a new type of smart coating system comprised of a composite material covered with a top layer of microencapsulated polymer spheres. These minute spheres undergo color changes in response to different levels of damage, and thus act as a visual indicator. In addition, the spheres contain resins that are released according to the level of damage, and thus the coating is also self-healing.

While these new materials are still in development, useful polyurethane-based coatings are commercially available today from large, established material manufacturers such as BASF, PPG, 3M, and Jotun. Some of these incorporate multiple components that extend service life and provide corrosion or abrasion resistance. For example, 3M makes a two-component polyurethane Wind Blade Protection Coating that is especially useful in offshore locations and deserts, where damage from airborne sand is a major concern.

NanoMarkets believes that the support of major material manufacturers, along with continuous worldwide, government-led push for alternative energy sources such as wind energy, will drive an increase in cost-effective solutions to improve efficiency and lifetime of wind turbine blades. 

While wind power doesn’t have the cachet or market penetration of solar power, worldwide wind power capacity is growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Only a very small fraction of wind turbines, however, include smart coatings, making this a very small market. Smart coatings for wind energy applications are relatively expensive – around $6 per Watt – and so these coatings need to provide sufficient operational cost savings in order to convince the industry that they are worthwhile. 

We do expect that smart coatings for wind turbine blades will be able to demonstrate sufficient performance benefits to be cost-effective. We should see reasonable growth in smart coatings made from epoxies, polyurethanes, and ethyl silicates, and NanoMarkets forecasts the total market for these coatings to be about $58 million by the year 2020. 

The key to growth in this market will be the development of more advanced coatings than what are currently commercially available. NanoMarkets believes that the commercial future of smart energy coatings will hinge upon the ability of coating manufacturers to offer self-healing and corrosion-sensing coatings for the proactive prevention of damage to energy-generating surfaces, thereby increasing the operating life and operational efficiency of these systems.

Do Photochromic Materials Have a Chance in the Smart Windows Market?
Published: February 03, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Advanced Materials

The smart windows market covers a wide range of technologies that use “smart” materials to dim glass in various ways. Active technologies, which require a power source to operate, comprise most of this market today. Passive smart windows, made from materials that automatically change tint in response to an external stimulus, are simpler, but they rely on changes in the environment to operate.  This can be a barrier to adoption in applications where conditions are not ideal.

While the vast majority of windows in buildings and automobiles use clear glass, the desire to control energy use will drive increased adoption of smart windows. This is a market in which materials play a crucial role. NanoMarkets forecasts potential revenue of over $700 million for self-dimming smart windows materials by the year 2021.

Photochromic windows, coated with materials than darken when exposed to sunlight, are competing to gain a slice of the smart windows market. As a passive technology, it will need to be priced lower than active technologies in order to succeed. Like many materials in this crowded market, photochromic technology faces a serious uphill battle in its attempts to win market share.

Photochromic materials have been used for many years in self-dimming sunglasses, so it might seem natural for them to make the leap and start appearing in smart windows in automobiles and buildings. There are some very good reasons why this hasn’t happened so far, and why photochromic windows may not ever take an important share of the smart windows market.

Concerns about Photochromic Materials

NanoMarkets' research tends to indicate that there is a market perception that photochromic windows do not switch fast. We believe that in order to generate significant revenue within the smart windows market, photochromic materials will have to overcome this issue, perhaps through a combination of clever marketing and actual performance improvements.

Photochromic materials for windows have been primarily associated with low-cost aftermarket coatings in cars. This is a low-end application that doesn’t do a lot for its image and may make it more difficult for these materials to break into the luxury car or building markets where customers expect high performance.

Another problem for photochromic windows is inherent in the way they operate, and there isn’t much the industry can do about it if it sticks with a purely photochromic material. These materials change their transparency in response to light intensity but are immune to changes in temperature. The window darkens when struck by light whatever the temperature is outside.

This may or may not be what the end user wants from a smart window.  There are certain cold but sunny days on which glare can be a problem.  But if the window darkens on a cold day, it tends to make a room even colder, thereby increasing the use of energy for heating and reducing the reputation of this kind of material as one that increases energy efficiency.

For building applications, this problem is made worse by the fact that the sun is lower in the sky in winter months, so its rays may strike a window more intensively in the winter than in the summer.

Improving Prospects for Photochromic Windows

There are several approaches that may allow photochromic materials to overcome some of their disadvantages and gain acceptance in the smart windows market. New materials development that improves switching time is one avenue, but NanoMarkets believes that the most likely path for success is for hybrid systems that combine photochromic with some kind of active smart windows technology.

Hybrid materials are the one approach that can potentially overcome the problem of windows that automatically darken on cold, sunny days. The right combination can incorporate user control to override the automatic photochromic effect as needed and produce a more marketable product.

SWITCH Materials, based in Canada, is the firm that at present looks most likely to succeed in this market. Its hybrid photochromic/electrochromic film technology is based on a class of diphenylyethene molecules developed at Simon Fraser University.  The company claims to have a large range of materials—as many as 200 molecules—available to it for future research.

This may sound impressive, but SWITCH Materials appears to still be at the test stage for its technology. Despite claiming lower costs compared to other smart window options, it does not seem to be shipping in any large quantities at the present time. It will likely need additional funding to break into volume production.

SWITCH Materials is especially targeting the automotive market, an area where simple, inexpensive photochromic materials have found somewhat of a niche. They are used for tinting windows in very sunny climates, where users want to block light during the day but need clear windows at night. These films are mostly manufactured and distributed in Southeast Asia and are not likely to be of much interest in Europe and much of the U.S. A more advanced hybrid technology, such as what SWITCH Materials is offering, should sell much better in these locations.

Fraunhofer ISE, the largest solar energy research institute in Europe, is another company that may be able to expand the market for photochromic materials. Its hybrid photochromic/electrochromic technology combines electrochromic tungsten trioxide and a dye solar cell (DSC) layer to produce a photochromic window that it says is suitable for both automotive and building applications. When illuminated the dye molecules inject electrons into the tungsten trioxide, which colors blue.

It is convenient that the DSC can provide the power source for the system. Switching speeds, however, remain slow, especially for reversing the darkening process. We expect that Fraunhofer will need to improve upon performance in order to create a viable commercial product.

NanoMarkets forecasts predict very small revenues for purely photochromic windows over the next eight years with potentially much better prospects for hybrids. Hybrid photochromic/electrochromic windows will still need to convince customers that they actually provide the best of both technologies, as their supporters claim, in order to succeed.

SWITCH Materials touts the benefits of automatic darkening when a car is parked in the sun and user control for added comfort while driving. But putting in electronic control also adds cost. Also, when using hybrids, the main advantage of photochromics being a passive technology is lost, because they now require a power source. As Fraunhofer demonstrated, however, this could be achieved with a low cost solar panel.

Many materials exhibit some kind of photochromism, and extensive research on this class of materials is being carried out globally. This opens the opportunity for other companies to compete in this space. But providing a photochromic material with fast switching time will probably not be sufficient. Because of limited applications, a pure photochromic material is not likely to generate much revenue.

There is potential for firms with the same kind of materials strategy as SWITCH Materials to compete if they can create a materials combination with sufficient performance at the right price. The problem is that the projected market is still very small – only $2 million in 2014 – and may not support more than one company even with optimistic market projections.

NanoMarkets can see the photochromic materials market – including hybrid technologies –growing to nearly $35 million by 2021, but price is very important. If a hybrid photochromic/electrochromic approach really can be less expensive than pure electrochromic technology, then it might reach this goal.

Otherwise, photochromics doesn’t really have much of an advantage over other smart windows technologies and may very well lose out.  And since the expected revenues from photochromic materials are not that high, there is probably space for just two or three companies to compete and the only way to make real money in this space is going to be for those who can offer value-added products such as complete windows or those who can gain substantial revenues from systems integration; such as various aftermarket firms in the auto sector.

The Strategic Potential of Quantum Dots for the TV Display Industry
Published: January 30, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

NanoMarkets believes that quantum dots have developed to the point where they can be a useful tool in the constant struggle of television display makers to stand out in the marketplace. Although barely out of the R&D phase, quantum dots (QDs) do offer some compelling reasons for adoption in a market that sometimes seems to be very good at offering new technologies and not so good at making them succeed.

Accurate Colors: Display manufacturers have always assumed that producing better color is a way to sell more TVs. By carefully controlling the size distribution of QDs in their formulations, manufacturers can create an array of pure colors throughout the spectrum of visible light. Controlling the spacing of QD particles is another way to tune the color.

In a display application, the display manufacturer typically embeds red, green, and blue (RGB) QDs on a thin sheet of material that is placed between the light guide and the LCD. The dots are patterned to exactly match the LCD's RGB filters. As a result, only red light is shown through red filters, and the same scenario holds true for the green and blue filters. This QD-enhanced LCD technology results in a display with richer colors and improved color gamut in comparison to those of traditional LCDs displays.

Cost: Beyond picture quality, QD-enhanced TVs can provide customers with a very strong value proposition. OLED TVs have promised similar quality, but have yet to be brought to market at anything close to an affordable price. The primary reason that QD TVs can offer a reasonable value is the ability to work within the framework of existing LCD fabrication processes. This is a serious threat to OLED TVs, which require expensive fabrication facilities and don’t provide any better performance. The processes used to manufacture QDs can be quite reasonably priced when put into volume production.

Areas of Concern – Performance and Toxicity

Despite the advantages of QDs for large displays, two of the leading OEMs, Samsung and LG, are heavily invested in OLED technology. They may have some valid reasons for their hesitance to embrace QD technology. Issues with quantum efficiency and lifetime can make OLEDs look like a better option. QD manufacturers need to offer high levels of quantum efficiency and demonstrate long-term performance in order to address these concerns.

There is another issue. The highest performing quantum dots are based on cadmium-containing semiconductors. Sony takes pains to explain that QD-enhanced TVs are safe for the consumer. Still, there are concerns regarding recycling and disposal of products containing toxic substances. Regulations in Japan and EU restrict the use of cadmium, and not being able to sell products in those markets is a compelling reason to switch to cadmium-free QDs. OEMs are looking for collaborators that can produce cadmium-free QDs.

Manufacturers that can provide cadmium-free QDs with sufficient performance in sufficient volumes will definitely have an advantage in the market moving forward. Despite much effort, however, it has been difficult to match the performance features of cadmium. Thus, it will require further scientific efforts to develop market-friendly non-toxic QDs for lucrative regions such as the EU and Japan.

Companies to Watch

Sony is furthest ahead in this space, with commercially available TVs that incorporate QD Vision’s patented Color IQ technology. These are primarily high end TVs, but they have a much more market-friendly price point than OLED TVs. The QDs in these products replace conventional LED phosphors. Unlike coated blue LEDs that are used in traditional TVs, Color IQ utilizes uncoated blue LEDs that not only emit pure blue light, but also energize the red and green QDs to emit red and green light, thus limiting waste and improving energy efficiency. TVs using Color IQ technology can achieve 100 percent of the color spectrum specified by the National Television System Committee (NTSC). In comparison, most standard LCD TVs only deliver 60 to 70 percent.

NanoMarkets believes that QD Vision is going to remain at the forefront of the QD revolution. The Color IQ process provides a reasonably cost-effective way to produce an enriched range of color compared to traditional LCD TVs. That said, Sony cannot drive adoption of QD-enhanced TVs on its own. QD Vision and other manufacturers are going to need to develop relationships with multiple OEMs in order to successfully drive the market.

We have seen hints of moves in this direction. Nanosys is receiving support from Samsung to develop cadmium-free QDs. If this leads to a collaborative effort that produces QD-enhanced TVs from Samsung, both Nanosys and the overall QD market will benefit. It might just provide the push needed to allow QD-enhanced TVs to eventually become the technology of choice.

Nanosys has its own patented process for creating photoluminescent QDs. Its QD enhancement film (QDEF), developed in partnership with 3M, can be placed on top of a traditional LED backlight, allowing OEMs to incorporate QDs into existing LED backlit displays. With this design, the QD film absorbs blue light from the LED and produces red and green light that are further combined with the original blue light to produce a high quality white light.

Nanosys recently demonstrated Hisense LCD TVs using QDEF. These do not appear to be commercially available at present, but Nanosys has the capability to manufacture large quantities of the QD material used to produce QDEF films. This gives it a chance to be successful in this market.

A couple of start-up companies are focusing on mass production of QDs. Although they have not yet gotten their QD materials into commercial products, volume production capabilities give them an advantage over competitors. Nanoco, based in the U.K., has a wet chemistry process using inkjet printing, and has modified its processes to be able to produce cadmium-free QDs with good optical properties. It move to establish a cost-effective bulk manufacturing base in Japan, one of the largest LCD markets, is likely to attract potential LCD display manufacturers.

U.S.-based Quantum Materials Corporation (QMC) produces CdSe and cadmium-free tetrapod QDs using a continuous flow process that can be scaled by using additional micro-reactors. The tetrapod shape can provide more precise color control and greater luminescence than standard spherical QDs, which may give QMC an advantage. The company has not been focusing on the large display market, but perhaps it should.

Opportunities for Quantum Dots

Large displays are the most promising commercial market for QDs over the next few years. NanoMarkets forecasts that the market for QD-enhanced backlit TVs should grow from around $18 million in 2014 to over $230 million by the end of the decade. Similar QD-enhanced backlighting for smaller displays is not quite as lucrative a market today, but we expect adoption of QDs in these products to increase. In both markets, companies that can produce large quantities of high quality cadmium-free QDs will benefit the most.

Other potential uses for QDs, such as in direct emission displays and lighting, do not have much prospect for growth in the short term. NanoMarkets does not believe that suppliers should ignore them completely, because they should be viable in a few years, but the window of opportunity now is in backlit displays.

An Update on Dye-sensitized Solar Cell (DSC) Technology
Published: January 21, 2014 Category: Renewable Energy

NanoMarkets has been keeping a keen eye on DSC photovoltaics for some years now. As stated in the previous report, the last couple of years have been quite interesting for third-generation photovoltaic PV technology. Significant advances have taken place not only with respect to lab-scale cell efficiencies, but also on the commercialization front. As a result, a number of commercial providers have the potential to supply DSC panels in the near future.

However, the financial difficulties faced by the PV industry in recent times have cast suspicion on the long-term viability of both large and small firms. Nevertheless, there is scope for further improvement in the efficiency of lab-scale DSCs that already are competitive with amorphous silicon (a-Si) cells (~15 percent).

The changing dynamics in the global PV industry have led DSC manufacturers to seek solace in more economically resilient off-grid applications. Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) applications and low-light driven DSC solutions for consumer electronics are increasingly being seen as the largest potential markets for DSC. In fact, the first commercialized DSC products were flexible keyboards and portable battery chargers.

A Ray of Hope: Effect of China and Improved Cell Efficiency 

Respite in the form of consolidation and subsidy rationalization in China:  In the last five years, the global PV industry, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, has suffered from pricing pressures caused by PV panel manufacturers from China. Subsidy-supported production led to an oversupply of solar PV panels and a subsequent drop in prices from the level observed in 2007.

As a result, even large Chinese PV panel manufacturers such as Suntech incurred losses. Based on current trends, the Chinese government is not expected to extend further subsidies to the numerous financially troubled solar firms.

Consolidation or closure will be the only options for less resourceful Chinese solar PV panel manufacturers over the next two years and is necessary if balance in the global solar PV space is to be restored.

European manufacturers have also been faced with reductions in government subsidies, which have further increased the pricing pressure on these firms.

Emerging PV technologies such as DSC have not been spared either. The DSC industry suffered as early entrants in the DSC space, including G24 Innovations (now a part of G24 Power Ltd., U.K.) and Dyesol (Australia) were acquired or left to suffer dwindling revenues respectively.

The good news is that the consolidation of smaller firms and a more reasonable government subsidy scheme in China will put a check on cheap solar PV panels in the coming years. In addition, the growing significance of protectionist measures, such as anti-dumping laws, should provide the DSC industry much needed relief.

However, the industry must make a conscious effort to ease commercialization barriers, and adequate financial support by governments and the private investment community is also needed.

With these developments, innovative DSC-centric firms in the U.S. and Europe can gain a fresh lease on life over the next three to five years by guaranteeing solutions with extended lifetimes.

DSCs looking to shed the ‘jinxed’ label: When the efficiency of DSCs hovered near 10 percent in 2010, the PV industry lost interest in this technology, and it was considered to be a niche market segment like organic PV (OPV). At that point, DSC was expected to remain in a permanent R&D phase or at best be suitable only for use in the low-end applications. Such an outlook was not entirely misplaced, as DSCs were obviously a type of organic cells because they contain organic dyes.

What changed in the last couple of years is that DSC PV witnessed a number of technological breakthroughs that helped the technology overcome previously stagnated efficiency numbers. More importantly, the industry embarked on a path towards solving critical lifetime-related issues that were a major stumbling block to its success in the past.

Challenging Path to Commercialization

Changing solar industry dynamics in China, combined with protectionist measures taken by the U.S. and European nations, is good news for new solar PV entrants. However, established DSC players such as G24i and Dyesol will need to figure out ways to stay financially viable.

Rebirth of G24i:  One of the earliest entrants in the DSC space, G24i ran into financial trouble in December 2012 but then reemerged as a new entity under the name G24i Power Limited. The reasons behind the revival of this relatively new PV firm are interesting given the pricing pressures faced by the entire PV industry over the last couple of years.

A private investment team led by the Martin family (U.S.) and Innovation Management Limited (Isle of Man) saw the potential to commercialize DSC technology.  With G24i Power’s roll-to-roll (R2R) process, which has significant potential to reduce the unit cost of DSC modules, this gamble seems to be paying off.

In addition, the strategy of the restructured G24i Power is different from that envisaged by the original owners. The focus of the new entity is to:

Engage in process improvement initiatives to enhance product quality, lifetime, and conversion efficiency in order to offer competitive alternatives in the consumer electronics sector;
Develop new DSC solutions, including solid-state flexible cells; and
Target a wider range of applications, such as mobile chargers in the developing world. Others include computer accessories, washroom products, healthcare solutions, and lighted point-of-purchase displays.

The intention of the new owners is to provide the financial support needed to smoothly reach the final stages of commercialization and help the firm regain its position in the industry. As a matter of fact, G24i Power re-started its production and research programs in November 2013.

NanoMarkets believes, however, that while G24i Power might trigger the DSC commercialization process, only consumer response and the ability to develop market relevant products on a regular basis will determine the firm’s success.  And this proof is still a long way from appearing.

Fate of Dyesol:  Recently, Dyesol’s revenues and profitability have been dwindling because liquid-state materials are going out of favor in comparison to solid-state materials. However, a couple of strategic moves initiated by the company might work in its favor:

The transition from expensive liquid-based materials to relatively cheaper solid-state materials including perovskite sensitizers and the Spiro solid-state electrolyte-a significant move considering the higher efficiency, lower cost, and better scalability prospects for solid-state DSCs.
The intent to diversify beyond the materials space into licensing for access to IP royalties and the manufacturing of modules.

The move to strengthen its solid-state material IP portfolio and progress toward commercialization can be strengthened through Dyesol’s recent tie-up with Nanyang Technological Institute (NTU, Singapore).

Dyesol’s acquisition of an equity stake in Printed Power Pte Ltd, a spinoff of NTU, in April 2013 will enable the company to enter the new market for fully printed Combined Energy Generation and Storage (CEGS) solutions.

If everything falls into place, Dyesol should be able to commercialize a DSC-based low indoor light sensor network within the next two years. Funding support from SPRING (an enterprise of the Singapore government) will be the lifeline for the project. In addition, this tie-up will further aid the shift in Dyesol’s research activities from liquid-state to solid-state DSCs.

Separately, Dyesol’s long association with École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland) will pave the way for the introduction of mass production techniques for solid-state DSCs in the next three to four years. Such methods will be primarily targeted at the production of DSCs for BIPV applications involving steel and glass.

However, the big question is if Dyesol can keep its investors convinced that it has strong future prospects.  Dyesol’s business model mostly hinges on its ability to translate pilot production capability to larger scale deployment. Thus, it is essential that the company puts long-term supply agreements and project financing in place.

Doing so, however, has been a concern for Dyesol recently; despite the completion of pilot projects for a majority of its partners, large-scale deployment has been lagging behind schedule. The delays have been mainly due to funding-related negotiations with some of its major partners, such as Tata Steel (Europe), Pilkington (part of NSG, Japan), and Timo (South Korea).

At this juncture, it is important to note that Dyesol does have a chance to speed up things in the coming year.  The disclosure in November 2013 by Tasnee (Saudi Arabia), one of Dyesol’s biggest investors and collaborators, to extend its funding support is a big source of relief for the firm.

The company will have immediate access to AU$10 million and receive a further AU$6 million by January 2014 provided it receives shareholder approval.  Dyesol thus has the opportunity to leverage these additional financial resources to achieve commercialization and mass deployment of solid-state solar cell technology in BIPV applications.

In addition, as of November 2013, Dyesol became an industrial partner in the $19 million SPECIFIC (Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings) project, which should also help the firm recover from its financial woes to some extent. The five-year project with established industrial partners such as BASF (Germany), Pilkington, and Tata Steel (Europe) was formed to promote solid-state DSCs in BIPV applications.

Overall, NanoMarkets believes that Dyesol’s success will largely depend on its ability to convince investors of the value proposition of solid-state DSCs and its capability of achieving mass scale deployment of commercial solutions.

For other small and innovative firms, success in the DSC space will hinge upon their ability to muster financial support on a regular basis. In addition, these companies must make a concerted effort to identify potential technological and financial partners that will be willing to commit to long-term supply agreements that will enable economies of scale.

Role of Tata Steel (Europe):  Despite developing the world’s largest DSC panel for steel-based BIPV applications in collaboration with Dyesol in 2011, large-scale production has not yet occurred; however, there are rumors that the company experienced technical difficulties that have apparently now been overcome.[CC1] 

At present, the Colors division of Tata Steel (Europe) is involved in various partnership projects on DSC research to assess the performance and commercial potential of DSCs. For instance, it is one of the partners of the Low Carbon Research Institute (LCRI), which is presently exploring ways to commercialize low-cost DSCs in the U.K.

The $7-million funding support for the project will be crucial for facilitating the commercialization of industrial DSC applications in collaboration with Tata Colors and Dyesol.

Successful technology development and production planning for the commercialization of DSC-enabled steel roofing and building facades is in the cards. However, given Tata’s cautious approach in the DSC commercialization space, NanoMarkets believes that large-scale production of DSC-based BIPV solutions may not materialize in the immediate future.

Fujikura’s (Japan) intention to commercialize low-light solutions: DSCs have played a significant role in the company’s strategic roadmap. In April 2013, Fujikura started shipping samples of its DSC modules that are capable of generating twice the electric power generated by conventional amorphous solar cells under indoor light conditions.

What sets apart Fujikura’s light-harvesting DSC solutions is the flexibility options offered to consumers. The ability of the modules to optimally convert light to electric power in response to changing lighting conditions (both amount and type) is also seen as a consumer-friendly move. 

At present, Fujikura is delivering small volumes of its DSC-based panels (business card and passport-sized) for evaluation. This DSC initiative is partially supported by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), Japan.

NanoMarkets believes that Fujikura can emerge as a key DSC player in the low-power consumer applications segment given the less competitive nature of the energy harvesting consumer electronics market and the growing consumer demand for technologies that can promise reduced recharging frequencies. Given that increasing numbers of samples of similar DSC modules are being produced and evaluated, commercial products might well be hitting the market within the next two years.

Potential of specialty chemical firms:  Providing support to the PV panel manufacturers are the specialty chemical firms that supply different components, including electrolytes and other performance-enhancing additives.

BASF (DE) and IoLiTec Ionic Liquid Technologies (Germany) are active in ionic liquids (ILs), which serve as DSC electrolytes. Sigma Aldrich (U.S.), an established life science and chemical firm, is a key player with a wide range of dyes and nanoparticles for DSC applications.

Merck is another major chemical firm that supplies materials for DSC applications and is active in DSC-related R&D efforts. For instance, it received funding (€3 million) in May 2013 from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research for project COBRA (organic cobalt-based low-cost printable large-area photovoltaics). The three-year project with partners 3GSolar (Israel) and Colour Synthesis Solutions (U.K.) seeks to improve efficiencies and lifetimes through the use of a novel redox systems and non-volatile electrolytes.  

NanoMarkets believes that there is opportunity here for such established chemical firms such as Merck, BASF, and Sigma Aldrich, which are active across multiple DSC materials markets, to collaborate on research efforts to further move up the DSC value chain.

What Changed in the Last Year?

Given the dynamic economic and technological environment in the DSC market, it is important to take note of some key developments.

Efficiency has always been a widely discussed issue for DSCs, although DSC performance is not solely decided by cell efficiency. Nevertheless, what could not be achieved over the past decade was achieved in July 2013 at the EPFL-researchers effectively replaced a liquid electrolyte with a solid-state perovskite material to achieve a cell efficiency of 15 percent under standard AM 1.5 test conditions.
This development could be the precursor to the commercialization of solid-state DSCs, given the nature of the pioneering work at EPFL, which is where modern-day DSCs took shape.
The use of other materials has also gained traction in the past year. For instance, the University of Basel (Swiss) and Merck are currently working to replace traditional DSC electrolytes with a cobalt-based electrolytic system. The use of cobalt is expected to increase the stability of next-generation DSCs while remaining cost-effective.

NanoMarkets believes that these early successes with solid-state DSC technology and new material sets hold real promise for the future commercialization of DSCs and could very well garner more investor interest that may, consequently, further accelerate innovation and drive real product development efforts.

Market Opportunities in the DSC space 

The move into new territories:  Chinese overcapacity and the accompanied crash in conventional silicon prices did not provide enough time for solar companies to adapt and reconfigure business operations. Aggressive consolidation, particularly of mainstream PV technology firms, was the result. DSC firms have also has been finding it difficult to compete in a space where comparison on the basis of $/W reigns.

In the recent past, DSC firms have been quick to realize that the way to establish a presence in the PV market is to target niche applications that can be commercialized within the next three-five years and benefit from the superior features of this technology with respect to good indoor performance, flexibility, robustness, and color tenability.

BIPV to the rescue:  In this regard, BIPV is an attractive market for DSCs given its ability to deliver semi-transparent glass. The market potential is huge, particularly in Europe where legislation is likely to push for the construction of near zero-emission buildings. However, large-volume production of DSC modules with lifetimes of around 20 years remains a challenge.

If Dyesol can achieve the incorporation of longer-lifetime DSC modules into glass and metallic BIPV solutions in the next two-three years, it may have a real chance to revive its fortunes to some extent.

G24i Power Ltd could also make an impact in the BIPV space provided some of its recent technological developments are effectively incorporated in its product line. Whether or not the company has access to the funds needed to ensure commercialization remains to be seen, however.

Meanwhile, Exeger’s (Sweden) pilot production plant, which is expected to begin commercial operation in 2014, will enable the firm to realize potential economies of scale. Notably, the €1.8 million in financial support the company received from the EU through a LIFE financial instrument may enable Exeger to gain prominence in the next two-three years.

In the meantime, the industry is also making serious investments to resolve scale-up related issues and ramp up production capacity in order to serve the large-volume BIPV market within the next three-five years. By that time, DSC technology will mature and the stability and lifetime-related issues that are still present today should be resolved at the R&D level.

NanoMarkets believes that with a few years of successful commercialization experience behind it, the DSC industry will be ready to emerge as a major contender in the BIPV space. On-grid and utility-scale generation is not on the radar at the moment; however, this situation could change if any technological breakthrough manages to significantly improve the long-term stability of DSCs in outdoor conditions.

Further opportunities in energy-harvesting applications:  Energy harvesting is another attractive market, particularly for indoor applications, which have recently experienced rapid growth. Here DSC can differentiate itself based on its substantially reduced performance gap. The indoor energy-harvesting market includes applications such as power supplies for various sensors (temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, etc.), remote control units, and charging devices. Power sources for information management systems in smart homes and large warehouses are longer-term opportunities.

In this space, Fujikura could emerge as a key player given the fact that the firm has recently advanced into the evaluation stage for its low-light enabled DSC solutions. It remains to be seen whether G24i Power will be able to make a comeback in this space with its new management.

In short, DSC manufacturers are once again retooling their strategies and looking for target niche markets where they can deliver unique value at a reasonable price and thus remain profitable.

Can DSCs Cross the Commercialization Hurdle?

There are compelling technological and economic reasons to be optimistic about the future of DSC PV.

As a fundamentally superior technology, DSC possesses the maximum probability of converting an incident photon into electrical current. A well-established material knowledge base and the availability of standardized manufacturing equipment should, therefore, enable high production yields in the coming years.

For instance, it is known that DSCs are relatively stable at higher temperatures. Therefore, the use of non-vacuum deposition techniques is possible and would do away with the need for expenditures on capital-intensive infrastructure. 

In addition, the ability of DSCs to efficiently operate across a wide range of the visible spectrum, including in low indoor lighting conditions, makes it superior to other competing technologies.

Furthermore, the ability to produce DSC modules that are semi-transparent, semi-flexible, and have longer lifetime modules makes this PV technology very attractive for applications in the BIPV segment.

To top it all, NanoMarkets believes that the recently improving efficiency trend and better price to performance ratio will drive DSC commercialization in the coming years.

Challenges?

Growth of the DSC PV market in the next decade is likely to meet today’s cautious forecasts. However, it is not going to be easy sailing, at least for the next couple of years.

Technical bottlenecks:  There is a need to remove technical bottlenecks, such as degradation upon exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and poor absorption in the red part of spectrum. In addition, the tendency of hazardous volatile organic solvents to escape from the liquid electrolyte must be resolved.

Apart from these hurdles, there are scale-up related issues; it is often challenging to reasonably replicate lab-scale small area efficiencies on large area modules. Fortunately, a majority of current research efforts are focused on successfully replacing liquid electrolytes with conducting polymers or ionic solids without compromising efficiency. Such developments should solve all of the liquid electrolyte related issues, including scale-up concerns.

Researchers are also working to improve the spectral absorbance of DSCs. If early results are to be believed, most of the mentioned issues are likely to be resolved sooner rather than later.

Economic issues: The impact of the economic slowdown is evident in the reduction of government subsidies and tax incentives that supported the PV industry for so long. The lack of such assistance will take a toll on the investment climate, although emerging technologies with unique benefits will remain within the investment radar.

In addition, because DSC PV currently competes in off-grid applications and sees its future in BIPV applications, the impact of declining subsidies may not be felt to a significant degree.

In summary, NanoMarkets believes that given the technical and economic advantages that DSC PV presents, notwithstanding a few critical technical hurdles that are likely to be resolved, DSC should be able to prove itself in the market.

Moving Smart Auto Glass Beyond Niche Status
Published: January 13, 2014 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

Smart glass is defined in different ways by different sources.  In essence it is glass—for windows, displays, etc.—to which “smarts” have been added, either by coating or laminating some smart material or by embedding sensors or other electronics.  Smart glass can be used in buildings and also in cars and trucks, which is our primary concern here.  

Smart glass can provide a variety of capabilities for auto glass—self-tinting (a.k.a. self-dimming) windows, self-cleaning windows, self-repairing windows and enhanced in-car information and entertainment systems.  In fact, smart glass has been providing functionality of this kind for many years, but has never shown signs of being much more than a tiny market niche within the huge auto glass sector. 

Until very recently, the addressable market for smart auto glass has never seemed to extend much beyond luxury vehicles or (in a few cases) car enthusiasts who buy aftermarket products.  And the low performance of many smart auto glass products makes it quite difficult for many smart auto glass products to penetrate to any great degree even the small addressable markets.

This rather pessimistic appraisal of the here and now for smart auto glass seems to contrast with the high level of interest that NanoMarkets is seeing in smart auto glass at major glass makers, electronics firms, and car companies.  We think that this dichotomy can be explained by the fact that the potential for smart auto glass seems to fit into three key trends in the auto glass sector and in the auto industry more generally: cars and trucks becoming “smart objects,” improved fuel economy and response to environmental considerations, and changing design priorities.

In all three cases, the challenges to revenue are both technological and market oriented. The glass and coatings industry must find ways to improve the performance of smart auto glass.  The car and truck makers must find ways to turn smart glass into buying points for customers.  At present, the rush to install smart glass in the automotive sector is mainly on the supply side.

Automobiles, Glass and the Internet-of-Things

Automobiles are considered likely to become important nodes in the coming Internet-of-Things (IoT) by important players.  For example, California and Nevada already have rules governing robotized autonomous driving.  And the IEEE is designing standards for an on-board local area network (LAN) that operates at 1 Gbps. 

Meanwhile, the role that glass will play in the automotive IoT is testified to by Corning’s promotional movie, “A Day in Glass,” which shows how new forms of glass will play a key role in the evolution of both homes and cars.  As NanoMarkets sees it, there are three types of smart glass-related opportunities emerging from the automotive IoT:

Enhanced control of existing smart glass products.  Some existing “smart” glass products actually respond to the environment in a dumb way!  Thus, passive self-tinting glass, tints when the light is strong and becomes less tinted when conditions darken. In a car, one might want more control reflecting other comfort and safety requirements.  Active self-tinting glass provides additional control with use of more sensors and systems management sub-systems. 

Sensors and other devices embedded in glass.  Heaters and antennas have been embedded in glass for many years.  However, the emergence of vehicles as part of the IoT suggests that more complex devices will need to be embedded in glass in the future.  For example, where auto glass serves in instrument displays and displays for entertainment sensors, there may be an opportunity to embed sensors for gestural control or various other kinds of electronics for heads-up displays, etc.

Opportunities for new kinds of display glass for smart auto systems.  NanoMarkets anticipates new kinds of displays such as transparent, curved and flexible displays.  The glass for these displays will not actually be smart.  Rather, the opportunity will be for new kinds of display glass for enhanced intelligence in the car itself.  Corning’s “A Day in Glass” implicitly emphasizes this kind of opportunity

All of these apparent opportunities should be seen in context.  IoT is a concept that is getting a lot of airplay in technical circles, but is still not talked about much among the general public.  In the best of worlds, IoT will become the key shaper for electronics over the coming decade – and smart glass will be able to leverage this trend to generate new business revenues. 

But if the general public sees nothing to get excited about in IoT in cars – or in IoT more generally, the smart auto glass opportunities may not emerge.  The bottom line here then is that betting smart glass opportunities on cars becoming smart objects is risky business!

Environment, Fuel Efficiency and Smart Glass

Another megatrend that creates opportunities for smart auto glass is the ongoing concern with fuel economy and environmental concerns more generally.  Unlike the IOT trend, environmental and fuel efficiency considerations are not “risky.”  They have been key to automotive technology and design for many years now, so it is easier to clearly identify smart glass opportunities stemming from this trend. 

And there do seem to be a number of opportunities for smart glass that flow from environmental concerns.  Some – at least – of these seem to be well understood.  Others are just emerging:

Tinted glass cuts down on air conditioning use.  Although environmental concerns have traditionally never been the main reason why tinted windows have been deployed in cars, they do have a cooling impact, meaning that the car A/C does not need to be used as much and this contributes both to reduced fuel usage and broader environmental requirements.  Tinted windows have been around for decades, but self-tinting smart windows adds a whole new level of control and responsiveness to what one has associated with tinted glass using a retrofit film

Embedding heat and other sensors in windows.  This can provide information to automotive heating and cooling systems that make for more efficient/environmentally friendly cars and trucks
Photovoltaics integrated glass.  This kind of integration has been talked about for many years, but has become a commercial reality in the past few.  The potential here is high, since photovoltaics could run many auxiliary systems in the vehicle, including lighting, wiper blades and perhaps even heating and cooling to some extent.  With a battery, PV glass could help provide some back-up power if needed.

It is tempting to see these trends as unstoppable, and—as noted above—the risks associated with this kind of smart glass are relatively low compared with smart glass products designed to capitalize on autos as a smart object.

However, caution is advised here.  We note that much of the driving force behind fuel efficiency and environmental concerns in the automobile industry is driven by rising real prices for energy and this trend might change as the result of an economic downturn or because of the arrival of new technologies for extracting fuel or powering cars.

With the latter in mind, it is tempting to assume that many of the smart auto glass technologies that we talk about in this report are a good fit with electric and hybrid vehicles.  However, it should be noted that, despite all the good publicity that environmentally friendly cars get, launching a new vehicle line can be expensive and difficult as Tesla, Fisker, and Coda and can testify.

Smart Glass, Comfort and Design Trends

But there is very little risk in using smart glass to enhance comfort or to fit in with the latest design trends and it seems to NanoMarkets that perhaps there is more here for smart auto glass makers to leverage than from the IoT or energy efficiency meme, even if style or comfort doesn’t get the focus from smart glass makers.  A few areas in which we think that smart glass can make a difference from a comfort and design perspective include the following:

More glass may mean smarter glass.  A long-term trend in auto design is to put more glass in vehicles relative to the size of the car; especially larger windshields.  This is a positive trend for smart glass, because (1) more glass seems to imply the need for self-tinting glass to cut down on glare and overheating of the cabin and (2) with more glass as a proportion of surface area, designers are more likely to want to position smarts on or in glass.  However, cars have been getting smaller over the years and this balances the “more glass” trend.

Smart glass adds to safer driving.  Both self-cleaning glass and self-repairing glass can be sold as safety and aesthetic enhancers.  The problem is that neither of these is ready for widespread applicability beyond a few aftermarket coatings that don’t last long on the vehicle and must be frequently renewed.  As a footnote, we expect touch-sensors and (especially) gestural control sensors to be embedded in glass moving forward.

Differentiation:  Designers have always seen—and presumably will always see—glazing as a crucial element in designs that differentiate vehicles in the marketplace.  Smart auto glass can add functionality and “coolness” to vehicles in support of the need to differentiate.

Privacy glass.  Privacy windows are associated primarily with limousines and taxis, but the addressable market may be bigger than that.  Self-tinting glass—especially PDLC glass—provides an upgrade on what is currently used and PDLC firms are targeting this market especially

Some sources on auto design suggest that car designers have lost their way somewhat in recent years.  Perhaps this is because there have been so many changes in the car industry that design has somehow been forced to play second fiddle.  As this balance is redressed, this may be an opportunity for smart glass.

Improving Prospects for LED Phosphors
Published: January 09, 2014 Category: Advanced Materials

Increasing demand for luminous efficacy, a high color rendering index, and cost-effectiveness is fueling the lighting industry and in turn, the LED phosphors market.

Phosphors are the critical luminescent materials for LEDs. In a white LED, for example, the phosphor emits up to 95 percent of the visible lumens.  Existing phosphors have been able to provide LEDs with 100 percent greater increase in LED efficacy and a 50 to 200 percent decline in price.  The use of phosphors has also helped drive down the price of high-quality LEDs by a dramatic amount.

As a result, NanoMarkets believes that LED phosphors will continue to play a major role in the development of the LED lighting market.  In particular, we think that the use of phosphors in applications such as traffic lights and exit signs will become key drivers for the phosphor market. 

More generally, we expect in LED applications where a lower cost per lumen, a high CRI, and a lower cost of ownership can be demonstrated, phosphor penetration will continue to grow.  We also think that phosphor choice may help reduce consumer perception of LED lamps as being cold, dull, and above all, unaffordable.

And another critical factor is who owns the IP in the phosphor space; a factor that has shaped—and clearly will continue to shape—the market.  Other factors that seem likely to continue and which NanoMarkets will also determine the structure of the phosphor sector are the “division of labor” based on both supplier size and geography.

What we have in mind here is that our analysis indicates that large phosphor players will continue to improve their products through the deployment of efficient production lines while smaller players will seek novel phosphor solutions. There is also something of a divide between Asian and European/U.S. firms with regard to product development. 

Emerging Requirements for LED Phosphors

For now the standard, blue chip Ce:YAG combination is the most popular on the market, green and red phosphors are steadily growing their market share, particularly for applications that require a high CRI and good color reproducibility, such as general lighting and liquid crystal display (LCD) backlights in cell phones and flat-panel displays.

What NanoMarkets is seeing though is intensified competition for new green/red phosphors.  What this means in practical terms is that certain companies—like Intematix (U.S.) and Mitsubishi Chemical Group Science—are actively working in this area and strengthening their IP.  Where we believe the thrust of the important R&D work in phosphors needs to be in the next few years is in the areas discussed below.

Color-mixed solutions:  In NanoMarkets' opinion, there is considerable room in the market for color-mixed solutions. The workhorse for current lighting products is phosphor-converted blue light, and there is still potential for energy improvement and cost reduction in that technology.

Color rendering indices: For high-quality LED solutions, the key factor is to increase the CRI at various color temperatures while maintaining high efficiency.  

NanoMarkets believes that new phosphors that have broad emission spectra (except for the red phosphors, where a small bandwidth is needed to avoid NIR-losses), or emit at various wavelengths with minimized re-absorption are needed.

Color consistency over time must also be guaranteed. Color conversion requires temperature-stable phosphor solutions, while RGB (red, green, blue) solutions require color controls that compensate for the divergent aging properties of LEDs of different colors.

To take advantage of these opportunities, we believe that an understanding of the color mixing mechanism at the molecular level is needed to be able to maintain the same color impression during the lifetime of a single lamp and between individual lamps. This goal is difficult to achieve, however, because the temperature and aging behavior of red, amber, and blue LEDs is different.

Materials Trends:  Novel Products and New IP

All commercially available phosphors are heavily patent-protected items and have become the basis for much of the IP litigation in the industry today. In NanoMarkets' view, however, an active search for novel phosphors is beginning, and we also believe there is plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses to enter this area and create novel IP.

NanoMarkets believes that the materials that will be key to the technical development of new phosphors are garnets, silicates, aluminates, sulfides, selenides, nitrides, and oxynitrides. There are interesting trends occurring with many of these materials, particularly with respect to intellectual property issues. 

Garnet: The IP related to Ce3+ doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Ce:YAG), or yellow phosphors, is mainly controlled by Nichia (Japan). Compositional modifications give CRIs of approximately 70-80. This color quality is acceptable for applications such as backlights for portable displays and indicators; applications which currently dominate the LED market and result in garnets dominating the phosphor market.

NanoMarkets expects that the important role of garnets in the LED phosphor market will continue.  However, we think that there will be growing opportunities for new players to enter the market with improved phosphor solutions in lieu of licensing technology from Nichia.

Silicates:  We also expect something similar to occur in the silicate sector. Because Nichia’s critical IP is set to expire in the next few years, an increasing number of phosphor manufacturers are offering YAG compositions as well.

Sulfides and selenides: Sulfides and selenides are mainly patent-protected by Lumileds.  However, in addition to any limitations that IP places on the use of these materials, NanoMarkets notes that this class of material has not been popular because it is sensitive to moisture and has poor stability and a low QE (quantum efficiency). There are also some regulatory issues due to the presence of sulfur compounds.

Despite all these negatives, we are seeing opportunities in this space, because when combined with YAG:Ce, however, warm white light LEDs are produced.

Nitrides and oxynitrides:  A new approach is to add red and/or green phosphors to nitrides or oxynitrides to improve performance. This technology is currently controlled by Denka (Japan) and Mitsubishi Chemicals (Japan) through with strong IP.

The problem here is that the price of these materials is, however, five- to ten-fold higher than that of yellow phosphors. Thus, what we are seeing is that many research groups are scrambling to develop better and cheaper converters, and a large number of patents have been filed in the last two years.

One important example is Intematix’s (U.S.) latest U.S. patents (numbers 8,529,791 and 8,475,683), which describe green aluminate (GAL) technology for rendering high CRI solid-state lighting (SSL). Companies are also investigating tungstates, molybdates, and carbidonitrides as alternative candidates.

The focus on new materials development and patent protection here has mostly shifted toward red and green converters.  This is prmarily because current display and residential/ retail lighting applications demand LEDs with warm colors and saturated reds. There are also some new approaches emerging that involve the addition of a red/green phosphor to a yellow phosphor to increase the white light quality.

Other technologies:  We also think that there are various other phosphor technologies that have what it takes to emerge as a winners. In NanoMarkets’ opinion, the most promising include:

  • Nanophosphors, synthesized from phosphor nanoparticles. These are already gaining in popularity.
  • Mn2+ (manganese)-doped red phosphors.  These were developed by GE (U.S.), and have the advantage of not contain rare earth doping agents.
  • Hybrid phosphors prepared by functionalizing quantum dots (QDs) using glass phosphors or by tuning the desired emission quality.  Proof of concept has already been demonstrated for these phosphore and we expected in-field testing to follow.
  • Non-complex phosphors.  For example, scientists from the University of Georgia have created what is thought to be the world's first LED that emits a warm white light using a single light-emitting phosphor with a single emitting center for illumination.

Manufacturing Technology Challenges and Opportunities

Improving production efficiency for phosphors, NanoMarkets believes, is a major challenge that phosphor firms must overcome. LED phosphors are currently made in small batches mostly using manual processes, but volumes are doubling almost every year, and many of the manufacturing steps must now be automated.  Various new kinds of phosphors are emerging that have demanding requirements and present a number of manufacturing challenges. 

As we see it, such automation will also address to some degree the current lack of consistency between phosphor batches, which can be significant and leads to the required testing of all incoming materials.   And in the future, NanoMarkets expects that finer phosphor production technologies, such as spray pyrolysis, could also improve particle size control. A better understanding of particle morphology and the mechanisms of formation would also lead to improvements in both production and performance.

New phosphor deposition technologies, including thin film, multi-chip array, chip-on-board (CoB), package-free (phosphor on die—PoD), embedded LED chip (ELC), and flip chip, are being sought that improve emission uniformity and cost effectiveness.  For remote phosphor application processes, the availability of more uniform and reproducible phosphor materials would eliminate the need for such matching processes and reduce costs. Thus, increased optical stability is needed to meet the requirements for longevity and performance, particularly for remote phosphor technology.

There are also some opportunities in the area of novel substrates.  Specifically, phosphors printed on plastic sheets that serve as diffusers of downlights are desirable. Some companies are also working on fabricating phosphors in injection-molded plastic domes that are designed to sit on top of an array of blue LEDs.

Thin films: In this technique, chips are packed tightly together to create multi-chip packages with high luminance, and nanophosphors are preferred.  Spray pyrolysis could be an enabling technology here, since it provides for the formation of finer particles with a narrow particle size distribution that is suitable for formulating inks.

In addition, NanoMarkets believes that the use of nanoparticles will reduce the sintering temperature and allows the formation of thick layers at much lower temperatures. Nanoparticles are also better at minimizing optical scattering.

Multi-chip arrays: Packaged multi-chip arrays (or modules) offer two main benefits. First, they generate a high light output, but allow the heat to disperse, and will thus find use in spotlight sources in which multiple chips are densely packed on small-scale substrates that require a light output of 5,000 lumens or more. Second, these multi-chip arrays enable the high color rendering required for high-quality white light and color adjustment.

Two types of LEDS are currently prepared with these modules: phosphor-converted white LEDs and modules with blue-pump LEDs and remote-phosphor optics. In addition, we think that manufacturers should be able to develop custom red, green, and blue emitters for SSL that are not restricted to atomic transitions. Integration with encapsulants is another option.

NanoMarkets also believes that it may also be possible to mix phosphors directly into epoxy resins to create package domes, thus setting the phosphor apart from the chip, which would reduce its temperature and make the light source less point-like and more distributed. This approach will be extremely useful for CoB and similar techniques.

Phosphor on die technology: PoD technology was first launched in 2012. Manufacturers including Philips Lumileds (U.S.), Toshiba (Japan), TSMS Solid State Lighting (Taiwan), and Epistar (Taiwan) are promoting package-free chip products in which the phosphor layer encapsulates the die without additional packaging to create the emitting device. In this technique, controlled application of the phosphor to the die is very critical.

PoD package-free chip products have an increased luminosity rate of 200 ml/W and a beam angle of 300 degrees. In addition, because the use of secondary optics is not required, power consumption and costs are reduced.   NanoMarkets believes that compatible, phosphor slurries, coated phosphors, and nanocrystalline phosphors will be needed for this technology.

Another package-free chip technology: LUXEON Q package-free chip technology has been, not surprisingly, the focal point of the industry in 2013. Philips Lumileds’ first application of flip-chip technology for high powered LEDs involves pasting the phosphor mixed with glue onto the flip chip for cutting.

NanoMarkets believes there is significant potential here to develop phosphor sheets, and Epistar is already working on this technology. Compared to conventional dispensing and spraying methods, the phosphor sheets have higher uniformity, including optimized color uniformity and brightness. Nonetheless, manufacturers will have to investigate novel and more environmentally friendly synthesis methods that maintain high quantum efficiencies and lumen performance over the lifetime of the LED.

Two “Threats” to Traditional Phosphors:  Quantum Dots and Rare Earth Shortages

Summing up the phosphor sector’s prospects, we believe that we have illustrated above that there are many significant opportunities.  But there are also some potential threats, although, as discussed below, these are in no sense immediate.

Quantum dots:  QDs are not phosphors at all, but NanoMarkets sees them increasingly as a credible alternative to traditional phosphors in some applications.  We think in particular, they are already competitive with red nitride in terms of cost of ownership for a system level solution but only used in remote phosphor configuration due to temperature sensitivity.

Nonetheless, there can be little doubt the high cost remains a major factor retarding the use of QDs as an alternative to phosphors.  This largely is due to the complex wet chemistry associated with QDs and the relatively small batch size it implies.

NanoMarkets is confident that these issues around QDs are going to become increasingly resolved.  What we are seeing is that leading QD manufacturers like QD Vision (U.S.) and Nanosys (U.S.) appear ready to tackle the challenge of large volume manufacturing for QDs that would result from a design win in a consumer display application. Also, we believe that once QDs achieve precise tuning to deliver only the needed/desired emission colors, this technology will pose a long-term threat to conventional phosphors.

Supply of rare earth metals: All phosphors are currently doped with rare earth metals, and previously, supply tightness and upward spiraling costs were feared.

Fortunately these fears were not realized, and the LED phosphor market is actually benefiting from a glut of new manufacturing capacity and a near-collapse in rare earth metal prices.  New recycling technologies are also lowering the pressure on rare earth prices.  All of this is driving down the cost, and hence, encouraging the rapid take-up of novel concepts for the development of novel phosphor technologies and the improvement of existing materials.

Transparent Displays, Closer and Closer to Reality
Published: January 07, 2014 Category: Emerging Electronics

Transparent displays have been around for many years, but have enjoyed only partial success.  In the military and the automotive industry, heads-up displays (HUDs) have been available for decades. On the retail side, a number of niche suppliers have been providing transparent displays with limited capabilities for almost as long.

One reason why transparent displays have not been a big revenue generator so far is that actual demand for transparent displays is limited.  Who in the world really needs a display that one can see through?  In addition, for various technical reasons, transparent displays offer limited image capabilities. However, NanoMarkets believes this situation is all about to change:

On the supply side, the display industry is gradually making a shift to organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology, which is easier to turn into transparent displays than the dominant liquid crystal display (LCD) technology. 

On the demand side, new augmented reality (AR) applications seem to call for new types of hardware platforms with transparent displays.  The most obvious example of this kind of platform is Google Glass, but we note that another dozen or so firms are offering products of the Google Glass kind, and both Apple and Microsoft have shown interest in devices with transparent displays.

Most of this technology is only barely on the market.  NanoMarkets believes, however, that the growing attention that these futuristic applications and associated transparent displays are getting has proved a call to action for the more conventional sectors of the display industry. 

As a result, we are seeing LCD firms coming up with clever ways around the technical problems that have hampered the rise of transparent displays. In a highly competitive economic environment, the retail and advertising sectors are finding these precursor transparent displays useful, and the revenue from transparent displays is already beginning to grow.

As a result, NanoMarkets believes that transparent displays represent a substantial opportunity over the next decade. However, we do caution that both the market and technical risks are quite daunting in our opinion. 

The market risks are high because there is not a full understanding of how transparent displays fit into the retail and advertising market going forward.  Even more uncertain are the prospects for AR, a primarily software-based technology that is fueling much of the current attention in transparent displays.

The Problem of Invisible Components in LCD Displays

The technical problems of creating transparent displays are equally worrying for display makers, especially for LCD firms.  In particular, the need for a transparent display immediately raises the problem of how to create “invisible” backlighting and color filters.

Backlighting:  Since most of the transparent displays that will hit the market in the next few years are going to be LCDs, backlighting is an obvious challenge.  NanoMarkets sees several theoretical solutions to this issue, but really only one that has much commercial potential.

Backlighting itself could be made transparent using zinc oxide (ZnO) LEDs, but such devices are more an interesting R&D topic than anything else.  Another possibility—but an expensive one—is the use of additional optics so that the LEDs are not positioned directly behind the display.

The solution that most transparent LCDs are using—and, we believe will continue to use—is simply to make use of ambient light.  Samsung and JNM Display Company—both Korean companies—are already supplying transparent displays using ambient light.  The problem, of course, is that when there is no light, the display doesn’t work. 

As we see it, this limitation is a serious negative for this type of display, and one that is not easily overcome.  However, there is still some room for innovation here.  For instance, Eyevis’ (Germany) transparent LCD technology uses ambient light during the day while it is transparent and changes to a more conventional dark background during the night.  However, this type of approach isn’t going to save the fortunes of the transparent LCD!

Color filters:  A similar set of issues can be found with color filters, which are also not transparent.  Again, the typical solution with transparent displays is to remove the color filter.  While doing so makes it easier to make the LCD transparent, sacrificing color is a huge backward step for transparent displays. 

We think that any transparent display company that sacrifices color thinking that it will not be hurt in the marketplace should take a look at the electrochromic display business, which has been devastated by “retina displays” and the like—in part because it has proved completely unable to provide attractive color.

Enter the Transparent OLED

These are serious limitations, and it is therefore no surprise to see a new and considerable focus on transparent OLEDs. Small transparent OLEDs are even being shipped in low volumes.  Players worth watching in the space include Futaba (Japan), Neoview Kolon (South Korea), and Samsung (South Korea).

Because they are emissive and happen to provide excellent color, OLEDs need no backlighting or color filters.  So transparency seems easier to achieve; “easier,” but still not “easy.”  Thus, various factors hindered the plans of Samsung in 2010 to launch the world’s first TOLED-based device. LG was also unable to make commercially available a prototype of a transparent display-based 15 inch laptop.

Some of the issues that transparent OLEDs face include:

  • The replacement of the usual metallic cathode with indium tin oxide (ITO) or some other transparent conductive oxide (TCO),
  • The excessive light loss, and
  • The disruption of displayed images caused by light coming from the background.

Gradually these issues are being solved, and NanoMarkets expects progress to accelerate.  Indeed, the solutions need not be all that dramatic.  For example, light loss can be controlled to some degree by introducing a slight asymmetry in the local transmittance of the electrodes.

And once these problems are solved, we foresee some exciting possibilities, although we also note that most of the really cool stuff here is being sponsored by Samsung in one way or another. 

Thus, as a signpost to the future, we note that Samsung’s transparent display screens are being used by Microsoft (U.S.) to create 3D-interactive computing systems in the lab. In addition, Samsung might be utilizing a transparent panel with touch capabilities on both sides in its smartphone (Galaxy S5) that is set for commercial release in the first half of 2014.

Samsung’s intention is also to enable Google to switch Google Glass to OLEDs, while Toshiba (Japan) already has OLED AR glasses.

Coda: The TFT Factor

All of this news is very exciting.  However, NanoMarkets believes that thin-film transistors (TFTs), which are a problem for both transparent LCDs and TOLEDs, may be another challenging factor.

Silicon TFTs aren’t a possibility because they could never be transparent, so the most likely solution will be oxide—possibly ZnO—TFTs.  The good news is that these TFTs are already in use for OLEDs, but not for TOLEDs.  Oxide TFTs don’t have to be transparent, but they can be.  Serious manufacturing challenges remain, however.

As things stand now, therefore, the transparent display story is a cliffhanger.  New applications seem almost ready to turn the transparent display market into a profitable sector within the display industry.  But to get there, makers of transparent displays will have to simultaneously reinvent at least the display backplane and possibly—because LCDs will remain dominant for many years—the backlighting unit (BLU) as well.

Thin-Film and Printed Batteries Update
Published: December 03, 2013 Category: Emerging Electronics

Smart Cards and Sensors:  Where the Thin Battery Business is Now

RFIDs have been replaced in the affections of “thin” battery makers by powered smart cards, sensors, and portable electronics that will be part of the Internet-of-Things.  All of these application areas will take a few years to grow to a level where they will be able to provide profitability for thin-film/printed electronics firms.  However, the two application areas that seem to offer the best immediate-to-medium term opportunities for thin batteries are powered smart cards and sensors.
 
Powered smart cards:  One-time password (OTP) generating powered smart cards may lose out to the OTP generation of mobile phones, which is a big risk for thin-film/printed battery makers.  Everyone has a smart phone these days—or it seems that way—and OTP could be provided with an app at what is effectively zero cost.
 
If the thin-film battery firms that have focused on OTP cards ultimately lose this business, they will start scrambling for new card-related applications.  One opportunity may be found in the biometric card. Thus for example in September 2013, two French companies—UINT, a French start-up firm and Mereal Biometrics—launched the first multi-application, powered smart card with an embedded fingerprint sensor. It has an internal contactless rechargeable source of power and uses components from Fingerprint Cards (Sweden).
 
Because they require the use of additional components, biometric cards are less vulnerable to replacement by smartphone apps than are OTP cards.
 
Sensors: Sensors could be powered by traditional means, but when sensors are distributed over a wide area, thin-film/printed batteries with long lifetimes/times between charges could become indispensable, and again, these capabilities are best provided by the batteries considered in this report.
 
In geographically remote locations, energy harvesting provides a solution to the problem of continuously powering the sensor nodes, including the replacement of the power source. While such energy harvesting could be considered a threat to thin batteries, complete reliance on this type of energy technology may not occur, because a sensor completely dependent on energy harvesting might give out at times when energy sources are not available.
 
However, if energy harvesting and thin battery technology was used in combination, such sensors would never need to be recharged. Moreover, such a combination would reduce the needed capacity of the battery, and thus reduce the overall cost.
 
On the other hand, energy harvesting devices add cost to the system.  And in general, the thin-film/printed battery market should be wary, because the sensor industry is not very flexible in terms of adapting to new technologies. The industry must be convinced of the long-term cost benefit compared to the initial investment.
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Why Smart Windows Has a Bright Future
Published: December 02, 2013 Category: Glass and Glazing Advanced Materials Smart Technology

And the Others: Thermochromic and Photochromic Materials, SPD and PDLC

When NanoMarkets conducted an online survey on the topic of smart windows materials, we found that the vast majority of respondents saw electrochromic materials as the smart material that would compete with retrofit window films.  To us this suggests a familiarity with and acceptance of electrochromic materials by the windows/glass industry and perhaps by OEMs in the automotive and construction sectors too.  Add to this the big names (GE, Corning, Saint-Gobain) and one has to ask whether alternatives to electrochromic materials have a chance at commercial success.

NanoMarkets believes that the jury is still out on this, but we note that there are several firms that are using materials platforms for their smart windows that are completely different from electrochromic materials.  At the very least, alternatives to electrochromic materials may give firms some protection from patent squabbles that have troubled the electrochromic sector.

That said, it seems unlikely to us that any firm is going to go full force against electrochromic materials across the full range of smart windows.  Instead, they are out looking for spaces where electrochromic materials may not be entirely well suited.

Thus, Switch Materials has developed a smart windows technology using a class of photochromic materials, developed at Simon Fraser University in Canada.  This firm is pitching its smart windows at the automotive window business where it believes that high switching speeds, low cost and the ability to fit in with curved surfaces will give it an advantage over electrochromic materials.  Research Frontiers (RFI) has also identified automotive smart windows as an important opportunity for its suspended particle (SPD) materials technology.

Picking a niche in which a novel smart windows materials platform has clear advantages obviously makes strategic sense.  But as NanoMarkets sees it, more may be needed.  To the materials/technology platforms that we have already mentioned, we should also add thermochromic materials and polymer dispersed liquid crystals (PDLC), although the latter is mostly for privacy glass.  There are also smart windows based on microblinds, but these aren't so much a materials play.

But the point is that, as NanoMarkets sees it, the smart windows business is getting quite crowded and we think that it will take more than just a strong materials platform to win in the smart windows sector going forward.  It will take money and strong partnerships, we believe.

As far as we can tell, there does not seem to be high levels of investment in the smart windows space today, which NanoMarkets sees as a problem.  But we note that the big glass companies seem to be interested enough in non-electrochromic smart windows materials to give these smart windows their blessing.  For example, PPG and Pleotint jointly market a commercial window glass system that combines Pleotint's thermochromic technology with PPG glass. RFI has also been able to draw the attention of important players in the auto glass industry, notably Nippon Sheet Glass. 

This kind of interest by big glass firms may well be enough to let a variety of firms find profitability in a few years.  But at some time—and in the not too distant future—we think there will need to be some notable investments in the non-electrochromic sector; tens of millions of dollars, at least.

Where is this money going to come from?  Our best guess is the big glass firms will be the source.  But perhaps venture capitalists, too.  There is also the off chance that specialty chemical firms—principally those involved with coatings—might get in on the smart windows act, both in the form of a visible part of a business ecosystem and as a source of finance.  At the present time, coatings/chemical firms are visibly absent from the smart windows space.

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Smart Windows and Mirror Technologies: An Opportunity Analysis
Published: November 14, 2013 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

The information for this article was taken from the NanoMarkets reports “Worldwide Smart Windows Markets 2013-2020” and “Smart Windows Materials Markets 2014-2021

The construction, automotive and aerospace industries combined will spend around $2.0 billion in 2013 for glass and film that prevents too much light being transmitted or reflected.  The reasons why someone would need materials of this kind are easy to understand.  Avoidance of glare is critical to this market, but so is energy efficiency, and temperature control.

We think this aggregate market number is accurate, but acknowledge that it might be somewhat confusing.  It includes both what we might call “dumb glass,” as well as the smart kind.  By dumb glass we simply mean films and coatings that filter out light.  Smart windows by contrast adapts to the sunlight level either by virtue of a smart coating that changes with the level of light (passive smart windows) or through direct electrical control (active smart windows).  In the case of active smart windows, the control might come directly from a building automation system.

Many of the smart windows technologies are not especially new.  What has suddenly given them some glamor is that the rising real price of energy is increasing the ROI of smart windows deployment, while at the same time smart windows fit perfectly with the growing interest in LEED and zero-energy buildings. 

For smart windows to replace dumb ones, they are going to have to achieve improved price points.  And the business models adopted by smart windows suppliers are going to have to recognize where the opportunities are and where they are not.

The Smart Windows Opportunity:  Not as Big as it Seems?

Most of the revenue included in NanoMarkets’ $2.0 billion estimate given above could not really be called an opportunity in the usual sense of that word.   Around $550 million comes from conventional window film.  We expect that market to grow slowly – 5 to 6 percent each year through this decade.  It is already a low-margin business, dominated by established suppliers.  Not a land of opportunity for newcomers this.

Nor is window film “smart” in the sense that the smart windows sector uses this term, it does not respond dynamically to changes in light conditions either as the result of the chemical nature of the coating or film used, or because an on/off switch can be flipped.  Glass that is “smart” in this sense currently uses one (or more) of the following technologies:  thermochromic, photochromic, electrochromic, SPD or PDLC.

While all these technologies are included in our global $2.0 billion number and they are genuinely “smart,” NanoMarkets cautions that not all of them are areas worthy of commercial pursuit. 

• In particular, included in these numbers are self-dimming automotive mirrors, most of which come from Gentex.  Gentex claims an 88 percent share of the self-diming mirror market and this firm has dominated this part of the smart glass market for many years. For this reason alone, self-dimming auto mirrors do not seem a good place to invest for a new entrant.  Nonetheless, we think these mirrors represent 30 to 35 percent of the smart windows market.

• Then there is PDLC.  This is also a genuine smart glass technology and perhaps one that presents a good future for existing and future suppliers, but it is limited in applicability mainly to privacy glass, because it is does not offer enough transmissivity to serve as a substitute for regular windows.  There is definitely a market for smart privacy glass, and not just in James Bond movies, but it is a market separate and different from which most smart glass makers are targeting

Where the Opportunities Are

Kicking out the technologies listed above, one is left with a general “opportunity space” worth around $350 million consisting of electrochromic glass, and several different kinds of films (electrochromic, thermochromic, photochromic and SDP).  Some of these technologies have excellent growth prospects – we have estimated a CAGR of around 30 percent for electrochromic film, for example. 

However, all of these technologies are chasing after the same markets to a large extent, so it makes considerable sense to benchmark them against each other, which we do in the exhibit below.  While a discussion with any of the fine purveyors of smart windows will leave one convinced that their particular flavor of smart windows technology is the way to go, there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between the smart windows technologies.  That is to say, there is nothing that jumps out that we can see that says one smart windows technology is going to be a winner or a losers.

Price, of course, does make a difference; especially when one considers the potential for residential market sales over time (which is considerable) and there does seem to be a view in the market that electrochromic technology may do especially well, because of its ability to lower prices over time.  However, NanoMarkets expect that – in the final analysis -- what really may stand between success and failure in the smart windows market may be supply chain strength; or what is today sometimes referred to as a strong business ecosystem.

The Vital Ecosystem

Glass firms are taking a considerable and understandable interest in the smart windows business and some of the biggest – AGC and Corning, for example – have been doing R&D in this field.  However, at present most of the innovative work in smart windows seems to be coming out of smaller firms.

The obvious strategy in such circumstances is for these small technology providers to form alliances with the big glass firms.  But the nature of these alliances – what works best – has yet to be determined.  Some possible business models are evolving, however, and more will evolve and develop.

There is already some of this going on; PPG and Pleotint are technical partners, for example.  And Saint-Gobain now owns Sage, the strongest possible alliance.  This could give these smaller smart windows firms a presence in supply chains that are long established and well-funded; supply chains that they could never have created for themselves.

There will be more technical alliances, mergers and acquisitions.  That’s for sure. But we also note that a licensing model can be very effective.  The case in point here is Research Frontiers which licenses its SPD technology to a huge range of firms.  The downside, of course, is that its revenues consist entirely of licensing fees.  It’s hard to build a big business that way, but then again, in another industry, ARM did exactly that. 

RFI’s SPD technology is currently manufactured exclusively by Hitachi Chemical which has at least 400,000 square meters of production capacity in place. This would be the equivalent of perhaps $200 million in SPD glass shipped if the plant was working at full capacity and firms other than Hitachi Chemical are beginning to manufacture SPD glass too. 

While only some of the value created by RFI’s technology will be returned to Hitachi, this means that Hitachi has enough confidence to believe that SPD – currently regarded as something of a niche -- will emerge someday as one of the most successful smart windows technologies.

Market Opportunities for Medical Ceramics
Published: October 29, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

In the past, medical ceramics were represented by ceramic and clay implants that remained inert in the host and acted as scaffolds or supports. Today, the scenario has changed remarkably due to the introduction of an entirely new generation of bioceramics. These implants are, amazingly, structurally and functionally compatible with living tissue in the human body and contribute to the development of new tissue. Over the past two decades, there has been tremendous improvement in the performance of these bioceramics, and technology advances have created a very huge market for ceramics in the medical sector.

The two key markets for medical ceramics are:

• Implantable bioceramics, which consist of medical devices and implants that are on the market as tooth and bone replacements. Bone and joint replacements are essentially metal and ceramic composites, whereas dental implants are mostly made of all-ceramic systems. Bioceramics are a huge success as implantable materials because they are bioactive in their natural compositions and can be fabricated into various composites with metals, both natural and synthetic polymers, carbon fibers, and most recently, carbon nanotubes.

• Medical equipment, including analytical and scientific instrumentation; ceramics are primarily used in analytical, diagnostic, vision, and therapy systems.
Although there are a few risks and ambiguities regarding the use of implants and medical devices based on ceramics, NanoMarkets certainly believes that the market for implantable bioceramics will continue to grow in the future. This growth can possibly be converted into profitable businesses by the companies manufacturing the medical ceramic devices and the firms that supply the necessary raw materials.

Implantable Bioceramics Market Dominated by Tooth and Bone Replacements

Biocompatibility and resistance to wear have made ceramic materials ideal for a range of medical applications, from artificial joints to electronic sensors, stimulators, and drug delivery devices. Alumina and zirconia, among other ceramics, have been successful in withstanding the hostile environment of the human body. The implantable bioceramics market primarily consists of two segments: tooth and bone replacements.

Dental implants: The dental consumables segment includes crowns/bridges, implants, orthodontics, impressive materials, composites, endodontics, adhesives, and cements, while the dental equipment segment is composed of large equipment, such as autoclaves, sterilizers, chairs, communication systems, compressors, cuspidors, and digital imaging systems. Small equipment, including amalgam removal systems, amalgamators, hand piece cleaners, lab equipment, duplicators, and ultrasonic cleaners, also fall into this product segment.

The leading multinational manufacturers account for approximately two-thirds of the global implant market and pursue premium strategies. The remainder of the market is very fragmented, consisting of several hundred competitors, the majority of which have a local country or regional focus.

The competition in the global dental implant market is intense, with only a few large players, viz. Nobel Biocare, Straumann, Dentsply, and Zimmer. The main drivers of the global dental market include low dental implant penetration rates and an increasing worldwide elderly population. Another factor that drives the dental market is longer life expectancies, because an increase in life expectancy results in a more elderly population. Increasing consumer incomes and increasing urban populations are other major factors that are boosting the dental market.

Bone implants:  Alumina and zirconia are the main ceramic materials for bone implants, largely due to their mechanical strength and chemical inertness. Morgan Technical Ceramics (MTC) is one of the globally renowned medical ceramic manufacturers that has substantial experience in developing clinically proven ceramic joints using alumina and zirconia.

MTC's Vitox AMC alumina matrix composite bioceramic material used in hip joints has been shown to have exceptionally low wear rates compared with alternative materials. It is therefore a dependable solution that does not have the potential health risks associated with metal hip joints, and it is longer lasting, thus enabling patients to continue to lead active lifestyles.

Medical-grade silicon nitride ceramics U.S.-based Amedica have good potential to find applicability in the spinal and arthroplasty segments.

Ceramics are also used in bone tissue engineering because of their osteoinductive and biocompatible properties. Scaffolds that typically act as engineered bone grafts can be used in several specialty applications, such as bone regeneration and wound healing.

Wide Use Of Ceramics In Biomedical Equipment

Ceramics are widely used in biomedical equipment, such as ultrasound machines, point-of-care systems, medical test equipment, and imaging instruments. MTC has, for example, launched its piezoceramic objective focusing device that provides the millisecond responsiveness essential for DNA research. Piezoceramics have become the premium choice for medical device manufacturers for the execution of accurate positioning and precise movements.

Because the number of people that need implants is always on the rise, demand for implantable bioceramics and composites continues to increase, while the number of ceramic parts used in biomedical equipment depends on the number of pieces of equipment manufactured and their utility. Thus, NanoMarkets believes that the demand for implantable bioceramics materials will be higher than that for ceramic components used in medical equipment.

Market Opportunities for Implantable Bioceramics Materials

Dental consumables represent the largest segment of the dental care industry, followed by dental equipment. In other words, implantable bioceramics consisting of tooth and bone replacements are in great demand and account for most of the market, while the tools and instruments used during implantation account for just a small part of the overall market.

The scenario described above suggests that not only the number of small implants used by the global population is growing and likely to continue to grow, but also the magnitude of sales are steadily increasing. Due to this steady growth in the small implants market, NanoMarkets expects the bioceramics materials market to continue to grow over the next eight years.

In this growing market, bioceramics materials suppliers will have expanded opportunities to generate new business revenues from both natural substrates and composites and novel manufacturing technologies, such as injection molding and electro-spinning. However, the significant contributors to clinical success will be materials that are bioactive, improve lifetimes, and reduce manufacturing costs.

The implant manufacturing giants like Nobel Biocare, Strauman, and Zimmer offer end-to-end solutions to patients that receive bone and joint replacements, from computed tomography (CT) scans to the actual devices. More than 20 percent of all of the prosthetic elements (tooth-based and implant-based) were produced using CAD/CAM in 2012. Although the majority of prosthetic elements are still made by hand, the share of dentists using CAD/CAM prosthetic elements continues to increase.

Nanoceramic Composites: Promising but Risky

Ceramic materials fabricated in the form of nano-sized particles show excellent promise in bone tissue regeneration applications. In fact many in vitro studies have proved beyond a doubt that bone-forming cells called osteoblasts have proliferated on substrates with nanoceramic particles and coatings.

However, when the ceramics are formed into composites with carbon nanotubes (CNTs), cytotoxicity has been observed in some experiments. In addition, nanoceramic polymer composites with amine and amide groups may lead to the accumulation of toxic debris that can evoke inflammatory and/or immune responses and ultimately lead to the rejection of the composite when implanted in a human host. Moreover, the rejection of the implant sometimes can lead to sepsis or septic shock.

Therefore, while nanoceramic composites have great potential in the future as implants and medical devices, NanoMarkets believes that key questions about their biocompatibility and bioactive properties must first be addressed before that potential can be realized.

Major implant manufacturers must conduct thorough research studies and, more importantly, appropriate clinical trials before implants and prostheses containing nanoceramic composites are released to the market.
In addition, NanoMarkets has observed that the number of companies offering nanoceramics is growing. Therefore, firms that simply offer acceptable clinical solutions, and not clinically significant advantages, will only be able to compete on price. However, if they can offer a price advantage, because most clinicians are price sensitive, they may gravitate to the newer lower-cost substitute implants.

Smart Coating Markets
Published: October 29, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

These coatings typically rely on the sustained release of silver ions (from a silver-based antimicrobial compound dispersed in an inert matrix), ensuring extended antimicrobial functionality throughout the lifetime of the coating.

• Another innovative firm actively working in the antimicrobial coating space has been Reactive Surfaces Ltd. (U.S.), which offers enzyme and peptide-based additives for antimicrobial coatings. Some of the key applications of such useful additives in the antimicrobial coating system include the development of biocidal surfaces, mold-inhibiting surfaces, and catalytic column coatings for liquid and gaseous waste-stream decontamination.

• Other firms have developed antimicrobial coatings that work via physical mechanisms, leading to the destruction of the thin cell walls of microbes. Such technology depends on the ability of stabilized silane molecules (microbe defenders) to remain suspended in water, forming a long-lasting antimicrobial barrier on top of the underlying surface. Some of the commercial smart coating solutions in this domain can be safely applied on a range of medical surfaces, including intravenous stands, instrument trays, beds, X-ray tables, lab coats, towels and patient gowns, among others.

Typically, antimicrobial coating manufacturers claim to offer long-term protection against a range of microorganisms, thus reducing the disinfecting and cleaning cycles in health-conscious environments. There are, in fact, several players in the market that specialize in providing non-leaching and water-based antimicrobial coatings that can be applied on a host of surfaces and fabrics.

Innovative drug delivery agents: The majority of smart coatings that are meant to trigger automatic drug release based on an external stimuli (an electric current, for instance) are currently in the research phase and there is uncertainty over the commercial release of such advanced drug delivery systems in the immediate future.

Switzerland-based Debiotech SA is among the few companies that are experimenting with nanoporous membrane-based refillable and single-use drug delivery systems (DDS) that are yet to be commercialized. Others are in the process of attempting to utilize nanoparticle technology to treat brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, via the transport of pharmaceutically active compounds embedded in nanoparticles across the blood-brain barrier.

Several research initiatives are also underway in this space. A prominent program involves the development of bioadhesive coatings by researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (U.S.). When such coatings are applied to nanoparticles capable of carrying active biopharmaceutical compounds, the nanoparticles are able to stick to the mucosal lining of the intestines, thereby allowing efficient absorption into the bloodstream.

Another potential application of bioadhesive coatings is controlled drug release for the prevention of drug overdoses in critical situations. Such systems usually rely on stimuli-responsive materials that trigger drug release only when they are in the ‘on’ state.

However, before commercialization of such advanced technologies is possible, much additional development work is required, and they must also be subjected to clinical trial evaluations. As a result, NanoMarkets believes that, despite an established market for conventional DDS, commercialization of smart-drug delivery systems based on smart coatings will not occur during the period covered by this report.

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Opportunities for Polymers in Medical Applications
Published: August 15, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

These resins are all polymerized from their respective monomers via different polymerization techniques in processes that have been optimized to provide high yields of high-quality product. Thermoplastics are predominately used in the healthcare sector because they meet the demanding property requirements of the medical industry. 

The mechanical properties of plastics are further improved with the help of additives, such as coloring agents, stabilizers, rheology modifiers, etc. Extensive cross-linking results in a random three-dimensional network of interconnected chains. As one might expect, extensive cross-linking produces a substance that has more rigidity, hardness, and a higher melting point than the equivalent polymer without cross-linking.

While these polymers are easily processed, the threat of additive or unreacted monomer leaching during use is significant, particularly for in-vivo implantable devices, and must be addressed. Dow Chemical, for example, suffered a major setback due to the leaching of small molecules into the bloodstream of patients from implants manufactured with its polymeric material. Better processability is sought in order to reduce such side effects, while utmost care is also taken to characterize any biomaterial in order to prevent the ghastly scenario of tissue reaction.

Elastomers: Unlike plastics, elastomers are able to withstand large deformations and still regain their original dimensions once the stretching force is released, and thus have a rubber-like elasticity. Such materials have a combination of stiffness, stretchability, resilience, and toughness. Non-biodegradable elastomers include silicon (Si) rubber, polyurethanes (PU), natural rubber (NR), butyl rubber, and very recently, machined thermoplastic elastomers. Although all have extensive applications in the mechanical and electrical world, Si rubber, Pus, and TPEs also have many medical uses.

Boom in Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPES) and Engineered Plastics (Super Specialty Plastics)

In addition to the commodity polymers mentioned above, new-age elastomers are gaining importance in the medical market today. Commercial elastomers synthesized without physical or chemical crosslinks or vulcanization have more flexible molecular networks. They have both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties, providing a “soft touch”. In addition, because they are easily manufactured using a variety of techniques, they are being added to the portfolios of large polymer manufacturers.

The device industry is specifically using them to coat accessories, such as catheters, gloves, and syringes, in order to impart a soft touch feel. Their use is expected to grow in intravenous drug delivery systems, cardio systems, and blood collection devices because engineered TPEs have high barrier properties along with other benefits.

Copolymeric products, or engineered polymers, improve the working efficiency of some of the above-mentioned polymers by incorporating unique feature that can benefit the medical industry. With this approach, significant properties of individual polymer chains can be specifically introduced into the final product. A good example is the gas-permeable ocular lenses provided by major eye care companies such as Bausch and Lomb. The lens is an amalgamation of many polymeric components and also has minute pores that make it permeable to oxygen, providing better efficiency than previously available rigid lenses.

Selection of a polymer for a given application also depends on it sterilizability, because all instruments and devices must be sterilized before they are implanted. Elastomers, TPEs, and engineered thermoplastics can be sterilized by radiation or steam, and they are also autoclavable. The challenge is to render them stable where repeatable sterilization cycles are employed for different applications, such as for diagnostics and labware products.

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Key Quantum Dot Markets
Published: August 14, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

An early entrant, QD Vision, is likely to lead the market. The company has strong collaborations with several leading TV manufacturers. Two of its patented technologies hold significant potential:

• Using currently available QD technology for displays that require a backlight source, Sony has incorporated QD Vision’s proprietary Color IQ technology in its 55-inch Triluminous brand of LCD TVs. These QDs emit pure green and pure red light and have superior color reproduction capabilities compared to those found in most commercially available TVs.

• A quantum dot light emitting diode (QLED) is a direct-emissive display technology that is likely to do away with the requirement for an underlying substrate and backlight source. The technology is currently on the verge of commercialization and is likely to find application in next-generation electronic displays because of its proven superiority to organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) in terms of reduced manufacturing costs, better power efficiency, and the ability to emit pure colors.

In addition to Sony, other notable consumer electronics players that are vying for a sizable share of the large format QD display segment include:

• Samsung, which is currently working in collaboration with Nano Photonica to incorporate the latter’s proprietary S-QLED technology, which seems to promise low cost and versatility across all display sizes, into TVs that should reach the market in late 2014 or early 2015.

• LG, which has also been working with multiple entities that have patented QD technologies, such as Nanosys and QD Vision; however, there are uncertainties regarding the timeframe for commercial launch of any QD-based products.

• Sharp, which has reportedly been working on QD technology; however, nothing concrete has been officially confirmed by the company.

It is a general concern among manufacturers to alter existing processes in order to accommodate commercial production of any product based on a new technology. The same applies to the adoption of QD technology.

In order to address such manufacturing concerns, Nanosys, in collaboration with 3M’s Optical Systems Division, has developed proprietary Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF) technology that is designed to replace the traditional LCD backlighting unit. This technology therefore offers TV manufactures a readymade solution for incorporating QDs into their existing manufacturing facilities with minimal incremental cost.

Despite rumors of a significant extended product development time, 3M has indicated that it expects to commercially roll out the QDEF-based solutions for OEMs offering TVs, smartphones, and tablets by the end of 2013. Due to the adaptive nature of the technology within the existing LCD manufacturing framework, QDEF could potentially replace other competing phosphor-based technologies and OLEDs in the next generation of TVs.

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Three Emerging Trends Reshaping the Transparent Conductor Market
Published: August 14, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

But the Latest Tech Trends from the Display Industry Should Worry the Transparent Conductor Sector

The fly in the ointment is that while—all things being equal—the addressable market for the alternative TCs is expanding thanks to Microsoft, all things are not at all equal.  The point here is that there are two trends in the display industry that seem to be working towards the use of TCs in general. The two trends that we are talking about here are the rise of the OLEDs and the in-cell/on-cell touch technology. 

OLED displays are emissive, which is to say they don’t need backlighting, which is to say they only need one layer of TC.  Thus, consider a thought experiment in which LCD displays give way to OLED displays over a period of time; this would essentially halve the effective demand for TCs of both the ITO and non-ITO variety. 

Something very similar can be said about the arrival on the scene of in-cell and on-cell touch technology. Both of these newer touch technologies integrate touch directly into LCD display and eliminate the need for TCs for the touch module either partly or completely. 

OLED displays have a lot going for them; they are ultra-thin and offer bright glowing colors.  They could also be flexible.  The business case for in-cell and on-cell can also be easily made.  Not only do they squeeze cost out of the BOM of conventional displays, but they enable the main display makers to begin to control the value embedded in touch; formerly this value flowed to the major touch vendors. 

So in-cell, and on-cell and OLEDs are all technologies that have made decent progress in the past year and they are all in their way TC eliminators, so NanoMarkets believes that these areas all represent things for TC manufacturers of all stripes to worry about. 

But they shouldn’t worry too much.  OLEDs are doing well in the mobile display space, but in TVs, not so much.  And it is quite possible that LCDs may be able to compete with OLED TVs using quantum dot-enhanced back lighting.  And OLEDs may actually lead to a new market for TCs as they start to be used more widely in the lighting sector.  Meanwhile, while NanoMarkets sees in-cell and on-cell touch as an unstoppable force, current market shares for these two technologies remain low.

Non-ITO TCs are at a Tipping Point

NanoMarkets has been watching the alternative (i.e., non-ITO) TCs emerge since almost ten years ago when carbon-nanotube coatings were first being proposed as an alternative to ITO.  As is often the case with such new technologies, it has taken much longer than anyone predicted for TCs to get commercialized.  In the case of TCs specifically this seems to have something to do with the market focus gradually switching from carbon to metal solutions, although carbon nanotubes and graphene remain part of the mix.

However, we think that in the past year, non-ITO TCs have reached a point where it is impossible deny that they are a serious alternative to ITO for a number of applications.  As we discussed in last year’s report many of the alternative TC makers have been working hard at business development for their products and NanoMarkets' sense of the market is that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit in a significant way.

For perhaps three years now it has been possible to point to alternative transparent conductor firms that have delivered their products for use in commercial products; almost exclusively in touch modules.  However, what seems to have happened in the past year is that these occasional successes have turned into a trend.  We think that this may not be obvious to the casual observer, because most deals of this kind aren’t announced.  However, insiders are seeing some real signs of commercialization.

As a result of this, we think that certain non-ITO TCs should now be considered serious alternatives to ITO and we would expect to see them spreading out of the touch segment and into other areas.  LCD firms are very conservative about new materials choice, but if they start to see these materials succeed in touch, they are almost certainly going to start to experiment with them in main ITO layers in standard LCDs.  Indeed, to a limited extent, this is already happening. 

ITO suppliers currently seem very unthreatened by all of this.  But NanoMarkets wonders whether they should be!

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Smart Lighting, A Boon for Chip Makers?
Published: July 17, 2013 Category: Emerging Electronics Smart Technology

But NanoMarkets believes that what this Generation 1 of smart lighting systems will need specifically is more efficient LED drivers and this is an opportunity for LED driver firms to come up with drivers with more carefully planned designs that match actual power loads in the lighting systems.  Low-power MCUs will also be in demand for this generation of systems. 

We think that the chip makers will be able to charge a premium for such products.  Nonetheless, within a few years, there will be diminishing returns and technical improvements in efficiency will then no loner produce significant commercial rewards. 

At that time, manufacturers of smart lighting systems will continue to buy leading edge LED drivers.  These drivers will increasingly become commoditized so that the systems makers will be able increasingly to bring price pressures on the chip makers and the smart lighting systems makers will themselves be less and less able to achieve competitive advantages by buying even the most innovative chips.  Again, this may be a price signal that both smart lighting systems manufacturers and chip makers must move on to new types of opportunities.

Chip Opportunities for a Light-Tuned World

What we are referring here specifically are Generation 2 smart lighting systems; lighting systems whose core functionality is color tuning and especially the tuning of color temperature for producing optimal mood, health and work performance. The science in this area has taken something of a leap forward recently and we believe that the next-generation of lighting systems will build on this work in both design and marketing terms.

For now there are many uncertainties about what chips would underpin Generation 2 lighting systems. Any chip firm that decides to include Generation 2 lighting chips in its future product plans is therefore taking on a risky strategy.  That said, NanoMarkets anticipates that the shift to Generation 2 will require changes at the LED driver, MCU and the LED layer itself.  Thus, while it is not the principal concern in this report, we note that commercial LED products already provide a degree of adjustable color temperature through a variety of mechanisms. 

From an electronics perspective, however, LED drivers will have to be re-designed to cope with new color-tuning market realities.  We think that much of the burden for dynamic tuning of LEDs will rest on MCUs in the system, although by the time Generation 2 lighting systems become common, MCUs will frequently be integrated with the LED driver  MCUs already exist which, when correctly programmed and designed into a smart lighting system can (1) adjust lighting across a range from cool to warm, (2) cycle through a range of colors or (3) tune to a precise color.  All or any of these may be requirements for Generation 2 smart lighting systems.

All of the major MCU and driver makers are likely to enhance their ICs as the smart lighting systems makers shift to Generation 2. One way of doing this is to incorporate a color sequencer, which receives LED driver output and converts it into 3-channel RBG output that can be mixed to create a wide, dynamic range of colors.  Another is to provide color tuning with high spectral resolution and stability based on integrated on-board color sensors; photodetectors plus filters.

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An Update on Smart Windows
Published: June 12, 2013 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

Smart Windows Technology in Hiatus but nor Forever

Smart window technologies can be classified in two major groups: passive and active on-demand smart window technologies. The main features and advantages of all active on-demand smart window technologies are that they provide their functionality in response to an external stimulus, such as an electric current (electrochromic), heat (thermochromic), or light (photochromic). However, only electrochromic windows truly provide the functionality on-demand with the flip of a switch.

NanoMarkets expects that improved technology will also help enable growth in the smart windows sector, but not that much has changed in the technology  area since NanoMarkets published its previous report on smart windows in 2012.  We think that there might be a lot more to say on the technology front in coming years as hybrid products that combine dimming windows with high levels of insulation and even photovoltaic panels begin to appear.  But for now the opportunities for smart windows are driving but more basic economic factors.

Costs Favor Smart Windows Deployment

As we have noted, perhaps the most important factor that we see driving the smart windows market in the near future is the rising real cost of energy and the consequent need for energy efficiency.

But there are other cost related factors, too.  One such factor is that, percentagewise, smart glass is often not that much more expensive than standard glass used in buildings and transportation. So, theoretically at least, consumers at every level of the value chain can be relatively easily convinced to go with the smart glass alternative. 

Also, as the volume of smart glass sold increases it seems likely that the premium charged for smart glass over conventional glass will decline.  This will be due to the usual factors associated with such things—economies of scale and experience curves—but we also expect cost/performance ratios to improve for the smart coatings and other materials used in smart glass.

Likely Growing Interest in Smart Windows from the Transportation Sector

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Smart Lighting Emerges
Published: May 02, 2013 Category: Smart Technology

New Functions for Smart Lighting Allow Market Differentiation

A year later we see no reason to change our minds on this point and, if anything, the need for smart lighting firms to differentiate themselves has become more urgent.  Some of the larger lighting firms that seemed to be resting on their laurels a couple of years back are now sitting up and taking notice of the smart lighting opportunity.  So the start-ups in the smart-lighting space have a window where they face reduced competition from the big lighting companies.  But this will not last forever.

Fortunately, new opportunities are beginning to appear to make one smart lighting system look different from another.  NanoMarkets believes that this market differentiation process can be achieved simply by offering higher levels of performance; such as quicker response times for sensors.  However, using existing technology, we are skeptical about the ability of smart lighting firms to use conventional performance factors to differentiate their products.  All their competitors use the same components and face the same basic market needs.  So there is just so far that this strategic approach can be pushed.

But NanoMarkets thinks that there may be other ways that smart lighting firms can stand out in the marketplace that will be more impactful.  These are more risky in the sense that they involve taking smart lighting systems into new markets of one kind or another.

In fact, beyond performance-based differentiation, there actually seem to be two ways for smart lighting products to stand out from the others.  One of these ways is to build interfaces to general-purpose building automation systems.  The other—and we think more effective—approach will be to broaden the functionality of smart lighting systems to include lighting promoting better health and mood.

Interfaces to building automation systems:   Although presented as something new under the sun, smart lighting is clearly related to the residential and commercial building automation systems that have been touted by various firms since the oil crisis of the 1970s. 

These systems cannot be said to have been abject failures; they are certainly used in commercial and industrial buildings to some extent. But building automation has also never been the resounding success that its advocates hoped for.  In particular, building automation systems have not often been used to control lighting systems.  They are much more likely to control HVAC. 

Nonetheless, times are different now; as we have noted, we live in an era of apparently perpetual energy crisis.  This fact is not just a driver for both smart lighting systems and building automation systems alike, but also an incentive for bringing the two together at last.  However, this could prove risky business, since, as we have noted, lighting management and building automation have remained surprisingly separate for a few decades now.

Health, mood and smart lighting:  A more likely source of long-term profit in the smart lighting space will come from extending the purpose of smart lighting from being merely a way to save money on energy bills to one that promotes better mood and better health.

As with the interfaces to building automation systems that we described above, this is a topic with a history.  It has been well understood since the days of the first incandescent light that changes in light can affect health, mood, and human performance.  However, given the nature of lighting technology for almost the entire period that artificial lighting has been in existence, there has been a limited amount that could be done to take advantage of what we have known about light and human behavior. 

That is to say, much could be done with the color variations and dimming ability of the conventional incandescent bulb and fluorescent tubes, but there were limits.  With the new solid-state lighting systems—those based on LEDs—a lot more can be done. These systems intrinsically allow for more control, partly precisely because they are based on chips not tubes and bulbs.  And the effectiveness of color control in LEDs is being promoted by improvements in phosphors and—eventually—it seems to systems without phosphors altogether. 

All this very nicely dovetails with a growing literature that shows how finely tuning lighting systems makes for human wellbeing.

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Examining Radiation Detection Technology and Market Opportunities
Published: March 25, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

Technologies for the detection and quantification of ionizing radiation have been around since the discovery of radiation in the late 19th century. As we have learned to exploit radiation to satisfy key technological needs, detection methods have become more and more sophisticated.

Radiation Equipment Market Characterized by Diversity

There are many radiation detection technologies to choose from when constructing detection equipment. Some of these methods are low cost workhorse methods and some have been designed for specific niche purposes. Generally these detector types are segmented by the detection medium (gas, solid, liquid) and the mode of detection. The more well-known detector types include the following described below.

Gas filled detectors: Generally these devices consist of a chamber of a gas or mixture of gases like air, noble gases (e.g., argon or xenon), methane or in some cases boron trifluoride, which are exposed to a voltage. When radiation interacts with the gas a current is formed from an entity known as an “ion-pair”, which is the basis of the detector signal. In some cases amplification of the signal (“gain”) can take place through a process known as “avalanching”.

Scintillation Detectors: Scintillation is the phenomena of a material converting the energy of radiation into a visible photon signal. This signal is detected by photo-detectors like CCDs. And the signal is amplified with a photomultiplier tube. Typically, crystals like thallium doped sodium iodide are the scintillator workhorse of radiation detection. Low-cost plastic scintillators, liquid scintillators and solid crystals of metal halide and metal oxides are well-known as well.  Neutron detection may be used in some of these materials.

Scintillators find application across all detection applications; in medical (radiography, CT scans, PET scans), defense and security (handheld scanners, cargo scanners, vehicle scanners), energy (process monitors and oil well logging) and big physics (dark mater satellites etc). Costs of scintillators vary across application and detector material type.

Cherenkov (Čerenkov) Detectors: Related to scintillation, a Cherenkov detector specifically measures photons that are emitted when charged particles (usually -) are moving through a particular medium (not a vacuum!) faster than the speed of light in that medium. Essentially, this technique measures the presence of very energetic electrons emitted from nuclear fusion, or cosmologic events. However, it is also used to measure for the presence of certain radiolabeled atoms (32P) in small concentrations which emit high energy electrons.

Semiconductor (solid-state detectors): Also called direct detectors, when radiation interacts with semiconductors, electrical currents are created. The most common are high purity germanium (HPGe) and doped silicon (e.g., Si(Li)) used in -ray and X-ray applications respectively. HPGe is one of the most sensitive radiation detectors with the best signal-to-noise generally available. It is a benchmark against which most other detectors are measured, but it is expensive and must be cooled with liquid nitrogen to work. This limits them in handheld and mobile applications. Both Si and HPGe detectors are often used in spectroscopic/scientific/research instruments.

Because of modern CMOS techniques, silicon detector form factors can be tailored with ease, giving rise to numerous position sensitive X-ray detectors. Other solid-state compound semiconductors (CdTe, CZT, GaAs, HgI2 and TlBr) are being considered for different applications.

Cryogenic Detectors (e.g., Calorimeters, Superconducting Strip Detectors and many more): These detectors employ very pure materials at temperatures close to absolute zero to detect either non-ionizing radiation (such as infrared), the presence of weakly interacting particle like neutrinos or can detect very low concentrations of ionizing radiation (single photon detection of an X-ray for example). Used primarily in high energy physics and cosmology.

Neutron Detectors: Neutrons are never detected directly; rather they are detected with specialized absorbing materials that convert the neutron energy to secondary particle or photons. Most neutron detection devices are modified forms of the familiar detectors. 3He gas proportional detectors were the neutron detecting workhorse until the recent 3He shortage.

Miscellaneous Detection Methods: There are various other techniques to detect radiation, from the low-tech photographic film or track-etch detectors, to exotic bubble detectors and emerging methods based on adaptations of MOSFET and dRAM technologies. These techniques are either becoming obsolete or have not found widespread use to date.

Current Market Drivers for Radiation Detection Equipment

NanoMarkets expects most radiation detection equipment markets will remain vibrant for some time to come. Universally, most markets employing radiation detectors want better performance, optimized footprints, mobility and of course, low-cost.  As one might expect there are a lot of drivers impacting the radiation detection market at the present time.  Some of the most important are discussed below.

Healthcare drivers: Demand for diagnostic screening (cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s) continues to grow world-wide and hospitals want multiple test instruments (PET/CT, SPECT/MRI, PET/MRI) and devices with smaller footprints. Digital radiography has nearly wiped out traditional film for X-rays, and will dominate in emerging markets which are in turn demanding more tests.  Meanwhile, medical diagnostic testing must use less and less radiation

Nuclear power drivers: The Fukushima incident was a major setback in terms of demand for new and upgraded power plants. However, selected nations have accepted nuclear power as a viable option and continue with plans to expand or upgrade their nuclear infrastructure, and demand has returned to pre-2011 levels. China is aggressively going to nuclear power. And nations now more skeptical of nuclear power, Japan and Germany, are reconsidering aggressive closure strategies.

Homeland security and defense drivers: Upheavals and instability in the Middle East, nuclear development in Iran, an erratically aggressive North Korea, as well as violence and terrorism throughout the world demonstrate that, post Osama bin Laden, we still live in a world fraught with danger. Western nations continue to develop devices for use by their militaries and their citizens to be vigilant against the threat of nuclear terrorism. Sensitivity, certainty and portability of detectors are driving new products.

Exploratory fossil fuel drivers: The discovery of new fossil fuel reserves on Earth is becoming more challenging, with the need to drill to deeper and in more exotic environments. New challenges to technologies to handle these challenges continue to be demanded by energy companies.

Challenging physics: Global scientific endeavors to probe the cosmos and the quantum world are leading to the study of more exotic phenomenon, which are often studied by radiation techniques. Probing so called “dark matter” is a key challenge that requires instrumentation with outstanding accuracy and precision.

Big science projects like CERN build and maintain some of the largest radiation detector facilities in the world. The ATLAS detector at CERN is some 45 meters in length and weighs over 7,000 tons. These detector systems include plastic scintillator fields to sensitive calorimetry arrays. This field always demands improvement to sensitivity, robustness and cost.

Detection Choice and Market Segmentation

As all of the above indicates, radiation detection covers a lot of markets and many different types of equipment, with the end result being a radiation detection equipment market that is highly fragmented.

• The selection of the detector by the ultimate customer for ionizing radiation depends primarily on what kind of radiation is needed to be measured. Other considerations of detector design must be accounted for and all of this factors in to the cost to fabricate a detector.

New Opportunities and New Companies

As market challenges continue to drive innovations, opportunities for small, innovative players to partner with these organizations should be present for some time. This is especially true in homeland security and defense where large aerospace-defense companies (Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin) are used to partnering with outside innovative technology players. Also, there are a number of participants in this market of all sizes who exist and thrive; there has not been much consolidation at this time. One driver for this open platform is most likely the constant need for government entities to demand innovations to stay ahead of technological developments of other nations.

Contrast this with the large participants in the medical imaging equipment space (Siemens and GE for example). These organizations are often vertically integrated back to even the basic materials that go into their PET detectors and gamma cameras. This part of the industry went through extensive consolidation in the first decade of the 21st century, such that only a few global players are left. While these organizations still act collaboratively, small players planning on penetrating these organizations will have to do so by extensive relationship building and providing solutions that speak to their needs. This is a much harder sell than showing up with a catalog in hand.

It should be noted that new opportunities in the radiation detection space are not limited to just innovations in the detector. Innovations that improve device performance may arise in electronics or collection or even packaging.

One potential play that should be considered is a way for reducing packaging costs associated with metal halide scintillators. These materials must be packaged in airtight housing less they degrade from ambient moisture. While this is true for sodium iodide and cesium iodide to a lesser extent, it is critical for high performance halides like lanthanum bromide or strontium iodide detectors. Lowering packaging costs would be critical to the adaptation of these types of detectors.   

NanoMarkets is not aware of disruptive new applications of radiation technology which are on the commercial horizon at this time. More and more though, existing applications that were once looked at skeptically and employed sparsely, are becoming more commonplace. NanoMarkets expects that irradiation for food safety will continue to grow and be embraced by the consumer as a safeguard against food pathogens. Radiation detection equipment opportunities specific to the food industry should continue to grow in the near term as well.

Checking in on Radiation Detection Materials
Published: March 25, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

The 3He Crisis and the Need to Find New Neutron Detection Materials

The biggest growth area in radiation detection materials is for new materials to replace 3He in neutron detection equipment.  Today, 3He is the dominant material for neutron detection.  The current number of 3He-based neutron detection portals in the United States is around 1300, with a usage of 60,000 liters of 3He. Approximately another 1000 portals are used worldwide (most installed by the DOE as a “second line of defense”). 

The biggest non-homeland security application is the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  The SNS already has 58,000 liters in over 1000 detectors and has requested 25,000 more.  Overall, neutron scattering demand in high energy physics worldwide is 125,000 liters through 2015. 

While 3He is an excellent neutron detector, global stocks of 3He are dwindling because the dominant source of 3He is as a byproduct of tritium production in nuclear weapons manufacturing.  With the end of the cold war, demand now greatly outstrips production.  Current worldwide production is approximately 12,000 liters/year, while demand is around 70,000 to 75,000 liters/year. 

The U.S. government started rationing 3He in June 2010.  Between 2008 and 2010, prices rose from approximately $100/liter to over $2000 /liter.  The crisis was caused by the requirements of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which mandated the installation of neutron detection devices at airports, ports, and border crossings. 

Current rationing is limiting use to applications that require temperatures under one degree Kelvin, such as ring lasers for missile and space navigation and specialized magnetic resonance imaging applications.   Most physics applications, such as neutron scattering facilities, have been informed that they must find alternative neutron detection technologies.  The U.S., which has long been the main supplier of 3He for nuclear safeguard inspections, has also informed the international atomic energy agency that future shipments are unlikely.  

DOE production of 3He from tritium decay is estimated to be 8000 liters/year going forward.  Production of new 3He from new tritium production is unfeasible, as it is estimated that costs would be around $20,000/liter.  Another possible new source would be extraction of 3He from natural gas fields that are rich in helium.  3He exists at 0.2 ppm in helium (4He) and can be extracted by gaseous diffusion; however, construction of a plant to implement such technology would cost in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The most likely source of new 3He is Canada.  Seventeen nuclear power plants in Canada have been filtering tritium from their plants since 1990.  Current estimates are that 20,000 liters of 3He could be extracted per year for the next three years, and 10,000 liters per year for the next seven.  The Soviet Union was the only other country to sell more than 20,000 liters/year, but they cut off almost all shipments for unknown reasons in 2008. 

The most likely substitutes for 3He in neutron detection applications are 10B and 6Li loaded glass or coated fibers.  10B-lined tubes and scintillation arrays are now entering production as 3He substitutes for portal applications with form factors that can be integrated with current 3He neutron detection infrastructure.  Boron trifluoride is another candidate, but its corrosive and caustic nature makes it a less attractive solution.  Our research indicates that 3He substitutes are one of the biggest new growth areas for radiation detection materials. 

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Rethinking OLED Lighting’s Future
Published: March 07, 2013 Category: OLEDs

NanoMarkets notes, however, that this is a necessary not sufficient condition.  Just because OLED lighting finds a champion does not mean that OLED lighting will succeed and that Scenario 1 will happen.  In fact it will be quite easy for an OLED lighting industry champion to fail quite badly in its mission.  We also note while NanoMarkets’ analysis assumes that the champion will come from the existing ranks of OLED lighting makers, it is also possible that some entirely unexpected entrant into the OLED lighting industry will make this happen.

For now the potential saviors of OLED lighting are a select bunch of firms that comprise:  GE, Osram, Panasonic (in alliance with Mitsubishi), LG, Philips and Samsung.  Although GE has completely abandoned its early claims that its solution processing approach to making OLED lights will lead to low enough price points that will give it early victories in the general illumination market, GE could still propel the OLED lighting market forward at some later stage, if it found a way to make solution processing work.

We also think there is a strong possibility that the OLED lighting champion might emerge from Korea, where both LG and Samsung are very much creatures of the Korean government’s industrial policy.  The rumor is that while Samsung has been designated as the OLED display champion, LG has been designated as the OLED lighting champion in Korean industrial policy. 

This actually seems very plausible to us, but it is important to recognize that just because LG is supposed to exercise a leadership role in the OLED lighting business, it doesn’t mean that it will do so.  Although, substantial government funding means that LG’s risk in this space, we note that Korean government projects to take Korean industry to world leadership do not always succeed.

The two other firms that are candidates for the OLED lighting champion are Philips and Osram.  In a sense, both of these firms can already be categorized in this way, since both were early developing this technology, building pilot plants and introducing early products.  They also participate in various government-funded OLED lighting projects around Europe.  This reduces the risk that these firms face a bit, but European industrial policy is nothing as full-bloodied as Korean industrial policy. 

Still, both Philips and Osram have robust OLED lighting programs and an apparent enthusiasm for this topic.  The problem is that both companies rely heavily on European consumer markets that are just about devastated.  It may be that the management of these companies do not have the stomach to make the substantial investments that will be needed to keep them at the top of the heap in the OLED lighting industry,

Where else could a substantial commitment and investment towards the future glory of the OLED lighting business come from?  One possibility is Japan, which for a while seemed to be the epicenter of the OLED lighting industry.  If it is a Japanese company that turns out to be the “one,” our guess is that it will be Panasonic, or rather the alliance that has developed between Panasonic and Mitsubishi. 

Finally, China’s rush to become a technology powerhouse may impact the story we are telling now.  There is no real Chinese firm that one can point to at the present as a possible OLED lighting champion.  However, serious OLED lighting firms have appeared in China in the past couple of years and if these are backed by the Chinese government backs these firms financially, it could be the solar panel market all over again.

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The Future of the Lithium-Ion Opportunity in Solar Energy Storage
Published: February 19, 2013 Category: Renewable Energy

NanoMarkets expects other entrants into this market.  Hitachi is one possible entrant.  It is working on lithium-ion batteries with Johnson Controls.  And although the results of this R&D will be destined for deployment in electricity grids and electric vehicles (EVs) we can easily see how such technology might find its way into PV-oriented products.  Thus we note that, Hitachi Maxell has been a long-term player in the consumer electronics lithium battery space.  So Hitachi Maxell’s expertise may someday bring Hitachi into the business of supplying lithium batteries to small-scale solar installations.

We also think that lithium battery watchers should keep their eye on China which is ramping up production of high-technology products based on domestically derived intellectual property.  While this is a very general trend, Chinese firms will most certainly show a focus on energy products and with China being a major source of lithium, it would be only natural if Chinese firms emerged as major suppliers of interesting lithium ion battery products.

Price, Projections and Problems

With all that said the fly in the ointment is the cost of lithium-ion batteries.  At the present time, they are about four times the cost of lead-acid batteries.  This doesn’t matter all that much when one is considering batteries for small devices; cell phones and power tools for example.  In such cases, the high energy density along with the low weight of lithium ion batteries are more important in technology choice by OEMs than is high cost.

Something like this may also be the case with many PV products.  A home owner, or the building manager at a small-to-medium-sized business may be willing to pay a premium for a battery that doesn’t take up too much space (i.e., one that has a high energy density) or that can be moved around easily.  This market environment would favor lithium ion over lead-acid in a choice of battery for a PV installation.

Based on the analysis in our recently published study of the solar power storage NanoMarkets’ sense of the solar storage market is that the kind of end-user thinking discussed in the previous paragraph should help propel revenues from lithium-ion batteries sold into the solar storage market from a measly $10 million in 2013 to $235 million in 2018 and then on to $370 million in 2020.

NanoMarkets sees these as big enough numbers to make the PV market interesting enough for lithium ion battery makers to chase after, but nobody is going to seriously claim the solar sector as a killer app for lithium ion batteries.  The really telling number in this regard is NanoMarkets’ estimate of the lead-acid battery sector for 2020, which is $1.2 billion; that is several times larger than the sales of lithium-ion batteries to the solar sector in the same year.
Why do we expect lead-acid batteries to continue to tower over lithium batteries in the solar sector?  The primary answer is price.  Even with the inevitable price declines in lithium-ion, and the obvious virtues of lithium ion in terms of energy density and weight, NanoMarkets expects lithium ion to be too expensive for PV users even a decade from now.  This will be especially true for large PV users, where the price of lithium ion batteries will translate directly into very high capital expenditures for end users.

Page 2 of 3 pages
Beyond Self-Dimming: Smart Mirror Makers Seize New Opportunities
Published: February 13, 2013 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

Suppliers of automotive smart mirrors are now increasingly marketing mirrors with customizable capabilities; the basic model is self-dimming mirror, and other features are added by the car manufacturer or, in some cases, the after-market consumer, in a “modular” fashion. Some examples of additional capabilities enabled by embedded electronics are as follows:

• Additional light sensors can be used to enable automatic headlamp dimming in the presence of oncoming vehicles.

• Heads-up displays (HUDs) can be added to the rear-view mirror to display critical data. HUDs improve road safety because they allow drivers to focus more easily on the road ahead. HUDs can be designed to display information delivered from a system of integrated sensors and cameras that detect speed, direction, distance between objects, and other vital parameters.

• Smart mirrors equipped with wireless communication capability can enable hands-free calling and voice recognition.  Similarly, internet connectivity in combination with advanced HUDs can also provide real-time navigation, traffic, and weather information.

• Cameras about the vehicle can also be linked to the smart mirror HUD to provide both forward and rear driving assistance, creating “augmented reality” capability. In this case, the cameras and displays could also work in conjunction with sensors to detect nearby objects, especially those in typical driver “blind spots.”

Digital Mirrors in the Consumer Sector

Sophisticated, digital smart mirrors will also find a market in the consumer and household good sector. The two most common product concepts in this market are smart mirrors designed for bedroom/bathroom use and more decorative smart mirrors that double as televisions.

Smart mirrors designed for use in the bedroom or bathroom can make “getting ready” easier and more pleasurable for the consumer. These smart mirrors will use embedded electronics and displays to provide, for example, daily weather, traffic, news, sport scores, calendars, reminders, email, etc.

In these mirrors, motion/occupant sensing, displays with user controlled and/or customizable content, network and/or Internet connectivity, etc. will enable them to act as information “hubs” for the user, providing not only image reflection but also the delivery of useful and/or interesting information. The most sophisticated of these mirrors could deploy an on-demand, transparent LCD, with or without a touch-enabled user interface, thereby making these smart mirrors similar to computer desktops with full video capabilities. 

Transparent LCDs can also be combined with conventional two-way mirrors in decorative frames to create a smart mirror that, with the flip of a switch, can become a high definition television. These devices would be attractive to customers that want to maintain a certain level of décor within their home, keeping the large, usually black and/or “ugly” audiovisual equipment hidden from view.

The size of the addressable market in consumer/household goods is very large, so even very small penetration rates for digital smart mirrors can translate into quite reasonable sales revenues. The luxury good and high-end markets will, of course, be the first to adopt these smart mirrors.

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Will There Ever Be a Role for Nanosilver?
Published: February 07, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

Nanosilver inks and pastes have been under development for some time. One of the major claims of printable nanosilver has been that, although it is certainly more costly on a per-weight-unit basis, less of the material is needed to achieve the same level of conductivity compared to conventional materials.  In addition, nanosilver's smaller particle size enables lower-temperature sintering and inherently higher resolution in printed patterns.

But these claims have not resulted in successful commercialization of printed nanosilver on a large scale:

• In reality, the high price of nanosilver has heretofore largely precluded its use in many traditional electronics applications. Even in today's market, in which silver's price is rising faster than the price of nanosilver materials, the balance has not (yet?) appreciably shifted in favor of nanosilver.

• Furthermore, even if high silver prices do eventually shift the economics in favor of nanosilver, this shift will be converted into opportunity only by those nanosilver suppliers who can tangibly demonstrate both technical and economic benefits for their customers. In other words, customers will look for materials that provide high performance, comparable or lower cost-in-use than conventional silver products, and easy-to-handle options.

Demonstration of the benefits should come the easiest in emerging electronics applications, where new printed electronics technologies are on an upswing of their own, and conventional silver is not already entrenched, such as in printed electronics applications that are emerging as part of the ubiquitous computing and/or Internet-of-Things phenomenon.  These new applications may also be more able to support nanosilver's higher price, at least for a few more years, than traditional electronics applications.

Of course, the downside to this approach is that many of these novel printed electronics applications are not yet on the market in a significant way. Thus, a complementary strategy for the nanosilver ink and paste business is to stress niche products that actually exist, and in which printed nanosilver has obvious and immediate competitive advantages—like miniaturized PCBs, certain types of capacitors, and printed sensors.

Nanosilver inks: Most of the nanosilver ink products on the market have been targeted towards inkjet processing, which is typically a good fit for high-resolution printing, if not for high-throughput (although some advancements in the speed of inkjet printing have occurred over the last couple of years).

To meet the needs of high-throughput processes, nanosilver inks designed for flexographic, gravure, offset, and other high-volume printing methods have also been of interest, although they generally lag behind inkjet inks in development and commercialization. Note that low-viscosity printing—also a feature of inkjet, flexographic, and gravure printing—is tailor-made for nanosilver. 

What about nanosilver pastes?

Although most applications for screen-printed silver are still defined by conventional silver pastes, there have also been advancements in nanosilver pastes.

For example, Advanced Nanotech (Korea) and Harima (Japan) both offer nanosilver pastes for higher-resolution screen-printing as a way to help manufacturers transition to nanosilver materials without wholesale changes in the printing method. These nanosilver products will come into play more frequently where finer patterning and better uniformity are needed. However, this commercialization effort has been going on for several years now, with very little to show for it.

But how far can nanosilver go?

While any successes in the inkjet sector will be associated with nanosilver, such a relationship may not be the case for the other printing methods. We note that conventional silver materials are also being successfully developed into inks compatible with flexographic, gravure, and other printing methods, which means that the use of nanosilver may not be required after all. In fact, NanoMarkets' belief is that end users will remain with the tried and tested materials unless they can be persuaded to move to more sophisticated materials.

Furthermore, today the advantages of nanosilver inks over conventional silver inks and pastes come at the cost of greater difficulty in preparing them and the nanosilver particles they contain.  This greater process difficulty carries through to a higher cost-per-gram of silver contained in the inks. 

In other words, often, the additional cost of going "nano" negates the savings of using less material, and the cost of nanosilver inks per square meter of printed area ends up being higher than for conventional silver inks and pastes.  For firms that are already looking for ways to lower costs in a world of high silver prices, this equation does not sit particularly well.

Nevertheless, we continue to hold the view that the development of silver nanoparticle inks may be an important long-term formulation trend in silver inks. The advantages obtainable with nanosilver inks could, we believe, still pay off in certain circumstances.  In particular, we see four possible ways that nanosilver could improve its prospects:

• Obviously, reductions in the cost of nanosilver inks would go a long way toward making them more attractive.  The benefits of using smaller quantities of silver are obvious, and while nanosilver may be expensive now, it is still an immature material.  It may take a few years for the cost of those smaller quantities of nanosilver inks and pastes to fall below that of the larger quantities of conventional silver inks and pastes, but it is reasonable to believe that it will happen in the long run.

• Printing precision is increasingly important as electronics across many applications are being miniaturized, i.e., as more and more electronic functionality is being crammed into ever-smaller units. Nanosilver ink formulations can produce finer, more reliable line widths than their conventional silver counterparts, even if multiple layers are required to build suitable aspect ratios. 

• When fragile substrates (very thin wafers used in PV applications, for example) or roll-to-roll (R2R) printing are used, an argument might be made in some cases that one or more of these alternative printing methods is the way to go. Inkjet, for example, makes sense when non-contact printing is desired.

• Low-temperature processing could be an enabler for some very low-cost, flexible electronics technologies fabricated on flexible substrates.  Here, the small size of the nanoparticles can facilitate lower-temperature curing of the printed silver, since sintering temperature in metallic pastes and inks is a function of particle size. This advantage potentially produces additional important opportunities for nanosilver as an alternative to conventional silver pastes.

Strategic Options for Silver Ink and Paste Suppliers in a Slowly Declining Market
Published: January 14, 2013 Category: Advanced Materials

As reported in NanoMarkets’ most recent report on industrial silver, NanoMarkets estimates that the total global market for silver inks and pastes in 2013 will be approximately $7.8 billion, but that it will slowly contract over the next eight years to about $7.5 billion by 2020.

The decline in the overall market is due primarily to two factors (1) the persistently high price of silver, which retards the use of silver inks and pastes in cost-sensitive applications, of which there are quite a few and (2) the decline in the biggest market for silver inks and pastes; photovoltaics.

High Silver Pricing to Persist:  Three Strategic Options

In the past, the silver inks and pastes market have frequently had to adjust to brief periods of high silver prices.  What seems to be different this time is that high silver prices are likely to persist for a number of years or even go higher.

The average price of silver is now well over $30 per troy ounce, which is more than twice those of just three or four years ago. Given the current propensity of investors to hold silver as a hedge against inflation and uncertainties about GDP and monetary policy, coupled with low interest rates, it seems unlikely that silver prices will come down any time soon. 

Thus, both consumers and suppliers of silver inks and pastes are facing a difficult business climate in which there is a new paradigm for their cost calculations. In this environment, NanoMarkets believes that the ink makers have three strategic options. 

There is always the default option of exiting the silver inks and pastes altogether, but we don’t see this happening except with a few marginal players.  The desperation levels have just not risen to sufficiently high levels for there to be a mass exodus of suppliers from the silver inks and pastes sector; not yet anyway.  The other two options available to silver inks/pastes suppliers are:

• Development of (1) silver-free substitutes based on printable copper, aluminum, nickel, and silver-coated metals, or (2) non-printing methods for deposition of circuitry (like electrodeposited and etched copper).

• Development of (1) silver-based products that have lower silver loadings but that maintain high performance, through the development of reformulated pastes with lower silver content, alternative silver powder or flake morphologies, or (2) lower viscosity/higher resolution silver inks designed for ink-jet, flexographic, gravure, and other printing processes.

In the past, substitutes for silver like these have always risen and fallen with fluctuating silver prices. Today, however, with the prospect of long-term high silver prices, there is now the possibility of a more stable business environment for them to develop, even though the market for these materials is generally inherently limited by their inferior performance compared to silver.

The bottom line is that the high price of silver is creating opportunities for new ink and paste formulations.  Given that this high price is likely to persist, these formulations can be created with reasonable expectations of long-term use.

Declining Use of Printed Silver in the PV Market:  The Silver Inks and Pastes Market Runs Out of Luck

Today, the PV market, and in particular the conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV market, is the largest user of silver screen-printing pastes. Printed silver is used for both front-side grids and backside metallization. But usage of printed silver in PV applications is declining.  Sales of silver inks and pastes for PV applications will decline from over $4.9 billion in 2013 to about $3.4 billion by the end of the forecast period in 2020.

Several, separate influences are creating this decline; taken together, these trends spell trouble for sales of printed silver to the PV sector:

• First, the high price of silver, combined with the extreme cost-sensitivity of PV general, has led PV panel makers to replace silver wherever possible.  To reduce costs, printed silver tabbing strips are increasingly being fabricated with cheaper metal solders and, more importantly, backside metallization is being increasingly switched over to aluminum. The only good news here is that front-side grids will continue to be dominated by silver pastes, largely because few worthy substitutes exist for this application in which maximum conductivity is critical.

• In addition, growth rates in the overall PV market have softened considerably in the past two years. Declining growth rates in PV are, in no small part, due to a decrease in governments’ support for PV installations.

• To make matters worse, more and more PV is shifting toward thin-film PV (TFPV), which does not use nearly as much silver as the conventional c-Si PV that dominates the market today.

It is important to see this decline in the PV sector in historical context.  The silver paste market has been one that has gotten lucky for decades now. 

The demand for silver pastes grew large as the result of the need for membrane switches and PCBs for consumer appliances and for silver traces in heated automobile mirrors.  When the growth of these markets began to wane, the silver paste market could make up ground with demand from the computer industry, then the cell phone sector, then the PV sector. 

But with the demand for silver pastes and inks from the PV sector in decline, there seems to be no new markets appearing for silver pastes as has happened in the past.

Four Markets Where Silver Inks and Pastes Will Sell Well in the Next Few Years

This fairly gloomy picture should not be taken to mean that silver inks are about to join buggy whips in the ash heap of technology history.  In fact, NanoMarkets has identified five areas where significant growth can still be expected for the next few years:

1. Traditional thick-film electronics. We think that traditional thick-film electronics, comprising a vast number of different printed circuit board applications as well as printed membrane switches, keyboards, surface-mounted capacitors, resistive heaters, and the like, will continue to be a growing sector.   Specifically, traditional thick-film applications for printed silver will use $2.4 billion worth of silver inks and pastes (mostly pastes) in 2013, and this sector will grow to a value of about $3.4 billion by 2020.

• Most of these products are made using mature, well-established processes so replacing printed silver with a different process would be hard to achieve in many existing production lines.  In addition, increased wealth in the developing world will spur increased demand in exactly the kinds of consumer products that employ printed silver circuitry.

2. New displays. New types of displays are challenging traditional displays in a number of different applications.  In particular, touch displays represent a growth area for silver inks and pastes. The now dominant pro-cap touch screens require minimizing contact resistance in the panel border area, and this need heavily favors printed silver, with its superior conductivity.

• Flexible displays have been talked about for many years, but now seem to be on the verge of commercialization, thanks largely to Samsung and LG. Commercialization of flexible displays implies the use of flexible, i.e. plastic, substrates, which favors the use of printed silver circuitry, with its inherent flexibility and compatibility with low-temperature processing.

• Although sales of silver inks and pastes into the display industry are expected to decline slightly over the next couple of years -- from about $388 million in 2013 to about $379 in 2015 – NanoMarkets expects these  revenues to begin to increase again starting in 2016 and to reach a value of nearly $450 million by the end of the decade.

3. OLED lighting. OLED lighting is poised for very rapid growth, especially after 2016, which is when it is anticipated that OLED lighting’s technical performance will be sufficient to meet the market needs of the broad general illumination market.  Silver ink and paste suppliers should make the case now to OLED panel manufacturers that printed silver grids or bus bars, which could prevent voltage drop-induced visible brightness gradients and resistive heat losses across long spans of (less) conductive transparent electrodes, can enable the market to meet its full potential.

• Silver inks for non-screen processes: The ongoing megatrend toward miniaturization of electronic circuitry means that manufacturers will be looking for higher value-added inks that target specific, new niches. This trend will lead to increasing opportunities for higher resolution inks designed for deposition by ink-jet, flexographic, gravure, and other printing methods. Innovative suppliers will meet this challenge with new kinds of inks, including, potentially, some based on nanosilver particles. While the market in 2013 for such silver inks is expected to a modest $260 million, the value could grow to well over $1 billion by the end of the decade.

The contents from this article were drawn from the new NanoMarkets report, “The Silver Inks and Pastes Market 2013-2020” Additional details about the report are available on the firm’s website at:

www.nanomarkets.net/market_reports/report/silver2013

The Prospects for Flexible Glass Have Never Been Better
Published: January 11, 2013 Category: Glass and Glazing Advanced Materials
A Role for Flexible Glass in PV? 
Flexible glass may find a niche market for some PV applications, with encapsulation of CIGS, DSC, OPV technologies presenting the most likely targets for generating revenues.  
 
Despite the current gloom in the PV industry, the large size of the PV market as a whole means that even modest rates of adoption of flexible glass in the PV market can lead to significant revenues.
 
Specifically, a key opportunity for flexible glass in PV is the fabrication of flexible PV and/or building-integrated PV (BIPV) panels. Flexibility – and indeed roll-to-roll (R2R) fabrication – is already important to the value propositions of CIGS, OPV and DSC PV. These PV types have greater encapsulation requirements than conventional PV, making them a natural fit for flexible glass, especially when flexibility is also required.
 
At the same time, BIPV is a natural fit for flexible glass because BIPV would benefit from lower panel weights that ease installation and reduce the need for special architectural support. And, more importantly for flexible glass, BIPV is a premium building product that may be more able to absorb the high initial costs of a new material like flexible glass.
 
Revenues from flexible glass sold into the PV sector are expected to reach a fairly modest value of about $30 million in 2013, then exceed $140 million by 2015, and reach nearly $670 million by the end of the decade.  Of this value, over half will come from sales into the CIGS PV sector, driven largely by the fact that CIGS PV is particularly suited to R2R processing and it is being preferentially adopted for BIPV applications, which favors the use of flexible glass in at least some products.
 
Longer-Term Opportunities for Flexible Glass in R2R Processing
In the long term, flexible glass may also find success in the roll-to-roll processing of displays.
 
The good news is that flexible glass is tailor-made for R2R processing of displays and a push for R2R will come as OLEDs start taking a bigger portion of the market.  It is also encouraging that there is a dearth of facilities to build OLEDs, so there may be pent up demand for R2R OLED fabs, which could preferentially adopt flexible glass from the start.
 
The bad news is that R2R will be adopted slowly elsewhere in the display market; display makers have made large and ongoing investments in batch mode fabrication.
 
What Price Flexible Glass?
Current prices for flexible glass are very high and NanoMarkets believes that it will not be that easy for suppliers to reduce prices:
 
• The small volumes of flexible glass produced today result in high per-unit-area manufacturing costs.  So low price points for flexible glass at this point in time may reduce profitability below acceptable levels.  Still in the next few years, NanoMarkets expects the basic economics of glass manufacturing to kick in; the cost of glass is directly related to the cost of the energy required to melt the glass, so cost is proportional to the volume of glass produced and this volume is less for thin glass than for more conventional display glasses.
 
• In any case, given the early stage of market evolution for flexible glass, reduced prices for flexible glass would not necessarily guarantee that end users would accelerate adoption anyway.  And NanoMarkets also thinks that flexible glass is always likely to command a premium; after all, it is positioned as an enabler of new features for devices (lighter weights, thinness, flexibility, etc.), and the market will set prices accordingly. 

 

So there are still plenty of strategic decisions for flexible glass makers to make.  Add to pricing strategy, these firms will have to help their customer transition to new equipment, new skills, and new processes.  Also they will have to focus on product strategies that can best target specific applications in terms of grades and sizes.  These product strategies will also have to consider the appropriate special coatings to enhance the viewing experience, like antiglare/antireflection, color-balancing, polarization, or light extraction coatings.
 
But with all that said, NanoMarkets believes that the opportunities for flexible glass to take off commercially have never been better. Indeed, while NanoMarkets forecasts indicate that the overall flexible glass market will reach a value of just over $125 million in 2013, it can grow to over $2 billion by the end of the decade.
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Smart Grid Energy Storage
Published: December 13, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Smart Technology

Current Grid Storage Landscape

The term “Smart Grid” is a still-evolving, catch-all term to describe all of the improvements currently being made and proposed to the current electrical grid that will increase efficiency, reliability, and security, while reducing costs. 

While it has been one of the least talked about requirements for achieving the desired Smart Grid, electrical storage is now being recognized as a crucial piece of the Smart Grid puzzle.  Growth in the near term will be dominated by two applications. 

• The first application is power quality in advanced markets. The growth of advanced manufacturing facilities and the pervasive application of electronics require that short-term storage become a standard feature for enabling advanced electronics equipment to ride through short-term (from a few cycles to a few seconds) power quality issues.  

• The second is to provide power leveling in areas with significant percentages of intermittent generating sources (wind and solar) on the grid.  The intermittent nature of these generating resources requires stored energy that can be released to the grid at a moment’s notice.  Significant energy storage will be necessary if the 2030 renewable energy state and federal mandates are to be met. 

Near-Term Applications for Chemical Storage on the Smart Grid

Energy storage: Currently, the most pervasive use of large-scale chemical energy storage has been for power quality in the form of uninterrupted power supplies. A UPS is used to protect expensive electrical assets, such as computer data centers and critical infrastructure, and represents a worldwide $10 billion/year market.

The requirements for such systems do not include high energy content, as most power outages are less than a minute in length.  Lead-acid and metal hydride batteries are the mainstays of this industry, but it is an application where supercapacitors and integrated supercapacitor/battery backup systems may make significant inroads, because they have significantly quicker response times than batteries alone.  

Until recently, there has been limited availability of high-priced supercapacitors As power quality requirements have increased and the demand for supercapacitors has grown, however, improved manufacturing techniques and higher volume manufacturing have reduced prices. In fact, the cost of supercapacitors dropped 96 percent between 1980 and today, and planned manufacturing improvements are predicted to reduce the costs another 50 percent in the next 10 years. 

As these cost reductions become reality, more pervasive applications of the technology will become economical, particularly in combination with batteries, such that supercapacitor markets will expand beyond data centers and certain mission critical applications (e.g., hospitals and utilities) to include the protection of electronic assets for retailers, office buildings, and manufacturing facilities, and ultimately will find applications in new home construction. 

Peak shaving: While power quality will be the first wide-scale application of electrical storage in the Smart Grid, peak shaving will be the next application of Smart Grid storage to experience rapid growth. Peak shaving amounts to storing energy generated or purchased during low demand time periods at low prices and either using or selling the stored energy at times of high demand and high prices. 

To be economically viable for peak shaving, however, electrical grid storage will need to be cheaper than local generation, which is currently the peak shaving method of choice for many industrial facilities. 

In addition to peak shaving, storage will also be crucial for efficiently managing the transmission capacity necessary for realization of worldwide wind and solar energy goals.  Energy storage will allow wind and solar generators to sell for maximum profit at peak usage periods and move the electricity to market, on lower-capacity transmission lines.  

Currently, lead-acid and sodium sulfur systems have the most extensive track record for peak shaving.  While early lead-acid trials for peak shaving were not very successful, new advanced lead-acid batteries look to be up to the challenge.  Sodium sulfur systems have been quite successful as well, although their use has been mostly limited to Japan, where currently over 200 MW of sodium sulfur capacity is being used for peak shaving and critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and high-tech manufacturing.

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Checking in on Flexible Glass
Published: December 12, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials

R2R processes are generally assumed to be inherently less expensive than batch processes, and the display industry has been attracted to them for some time.  However, one reason why R2R processing has not yet been implemented is that it has been assumed to require flexible substrates and encapsulation, which in turn has implied the need for (1) plastic substrates, which might be widely viewed as inferior to glass in terms of performance, and/or (2) expensive and immature flexible encapsulation technology.

Flexible glass appears to offer an important way to cut this Gordian knot.  Flexible glass will work well as a substrate in R2R plants, but it is still glass; so it overcomes the problems in (1) and, again because it is glass, flexible glass seems well-designed for being a flexible encapsulation technology, thereby making an end run around objection (2). 

The bottom line here is that flexible glass offers a way for the display industry to smoothly transition to R2R processes, for which there are strong theoretical arguments.
In other words, NanoMarkets believes that the display industry is discovering that there is a compelling reason for using flexible glass as an enabling technology for R2R processing.  In fact the pent up demand for flexible glass in this context may be almost as great as for flexible glass deployed in lightweight mobile displays. 

However, what is likely to hold back the demand for flexible glass as an R2R facilitator is that display makers will not make a quick transition from batch mode to R2R, no matter what.  The transition from one fabrication technology to an entirely different one is not very speedy.

There has been no news in the past year that suggests that the shift to R2R will occur quickly.  However, now that OLEDs, which are highly-suited to R2R processing, are now no longer a niche technology, a fact that has become indisputable in 2012, indicates that R2R's time may now be at hand.

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Why Self-Cleaning Windows are an Emerging Market Opportunity
Published: November 20, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Improving Self-Cleaning Windows Technology

As we have noted, the technology that has generally been used for self-cleaning windows to date has not been especially impressive in terms of its value proposition. However, the field of self-cleaning coatings is far from mature. The technology that is embedded in the current generation of self-cleaning windows is ten years old or so and has not changed significantly.

The need for more research into self-cleaning functionality is clear to most of the players in this space and in this context we note that the current technology for self-cleaning windows pre-dates the rush of interest in advanced materials in general and nanomaterials specifically; nanomaterials seeming to have a great deal of relevance to the technical issues at stake with self-cleaning windows. In fact, when the commercialization of nanomaterials—and nanotechnology—was just getting going a decade ago—self-cleaning surfaces was an area of strong interest.

Although not always at the forefront of advanced materials research, a review of the relevant research periodicals quickly reveals that R&D into (1) the fundamental mechanisms of self-cleaning and (2) characterizations of new coatings is regularly published in the primary literature.  Also, it is our impression that this R&D work is not just science project stuff, but has direct relevance to building better self-cleaning windows in a few years. 

It should also be noted that this R&D also has broader intentions. While self-cleaning windows have been around for a decade, self-cleaning surfaces are now seen as a larger market, addressing other kinds of non-window glass (display glass, for example) and non-glass surfaces (aluminum siding, for instance). Although perhaps stretching a point, this whole area may be seen as part of a larger smart materials research program.

In any case, the self-cleaning windows market seems sure to benefit from the increased attention being given to self-cleaning in the technologist community, which, we think will eventually manifest itself in greater customer awareness and interest in the self-cleaning concept. This in turn will increase markets and open up new opportunities for weaving novel marketing strategies around self-cleaning surfaces of all kinds, including windows.

A note on self-cleaning windows and self-cleaning solar panels:  We note in particular, that attempts to use self-cleaning technology for solar panels are especially closely related to self-cleaning windows.  This is because solar panels use similar materials and are of similar sizes to windows. They also have to deal with similar environmental conditions.  Keeping a solar panel clean is important because it directly impacts the efficiency of the panel; efficiency being the most important performance.

Given all this, we expect there to be a significant amount of cross-fertilization been the windows and solar panel markets when it comes to technology and product development. This is in addition to likely development of integrated products that offer PV, windows and self-cleaning functionality, all in one "package."

Impetus for Self-Cleaning Comes from Key Windows Industry Trends

Self-cleaning windows are mostly seen at the present as a little market niche that remains somewhat separate from the rest of the windows market.  Although it might be a little unfair to think of self-cleaning windows at the present time as being luxury products, they do seem to trend in that direction.

Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that two key trends are going to drag self-cleaning windows into the windows mainstream in the not-too-distant future and these trends will cause self-cleaning windows to emerge from their niche-like status:

• The first of these trends is towards smart windows.  Smart windows can involve active technology or may be passive film technology.  In the glazing industry "smart windows" are often referred to by a near synonym, "smart glazing." 

Smart windows as usually understood are primarily concerned with dimming or brightening windows automatically.  This is not just to keep buildings appropriately lit, but also to control energy requirements; lowering both operational and capital costs for HVAC.  Although smart windows technology has actually been around for some time, it has received a major impetus from green building concepts and codes such as LEED, zero-energy building and passive solar. For example, zero-energy and passive solar buildings require very careful adjustment of solar intake to be viable

NanoMarkets believes that self-cleaning windows may receive an impetus from these developments. Shading and dimming of windows is obviously dependent on the light transmission capabilities of the windows and these can be impacted by the cleanliness of the windows.  

• The second of these trends is toward multi-functional windows. NanoMarkets foresees the growing incorporation of photovoltaic (BIPV), lighting and other functionality into high end windows over a period of time.  Self-cleaning windows would fit very neatly into this trend.  The overall driver for multi-functional windows is (1) the "green building" drivers mentioned above in connection with smart windows, and (2) the cost benefits associated with any kind of functional integration.

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Printed Electronics V3.0:  The New PE
Published: November 20, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Given the overall disappointing results to date for printed electronics, it is perhaps surprising that there has been something of a revival of interest in strategic printed electronics in the last couple of years. Not surprisingly, this effort is much more modest than the narrative of developing a large and distinct PE industry, and in the sense that the number of applications to which the new PE is directed are fairly limited.

There are a number of ways that these efforts could be viewed.  A cynic might view them as no more than a last desperate gasp of firms that were active in the second phase of PE story.  However, NanoMarkets believes that there are now genuine opportunities to be had as the result of PE development and that this new kind of PE, which we are going to call Printed Electronics V3.0, can learn from the failures of the past, both in applications and in printing itself, to generate new business revenues. 

Within PE V3.0 we find a relatively narrow group of applications that are being treated seriously by those interested in PE V3.0, but these applications are systems that rely on a large number of components and it is these components that are actually printed.  For example, from the end-user perspective one area of interest would be powered smart cards, but this might mean printing two types of components; chips and displays: 

• Most of the current interest within the PE V3.0 framework is with a class of applications that are clearly strategic in nature with a tendency for them to also be low-cost and disposable/short-lived.  These points are interrelated in that for very low-cost applications, it may be very hard to achieve economic viability without using functional printing.

• There are also some other applications, which we are including in PE V3.0 where printing is used (or could be used) and there is a chance that it could become strategic in nature, but where “disposability” is not really the issue. Printed mobile and TV displays and printed solar panels are the main examples here. These PE V3.0 applications are mostly characterized by the fact that, although not common, printing is being deployed by one or two firms, in a way that is hard to ignore.

What all this means ultimately is that PE V3.0 is much more modest in its ambitions.  It is certainly not trying to create a major new industry for Europe or, indeed, anywhere else.  More importantly in the context of this report, the applications being put forward by advocates of PE V3.0 are relatively few in number and they are limited to those where:

• The PE industry is reasonably sure that today's printing technology is up to the task set for it.

• There is a fairly clear and short path to first revenues for the systems being printed.  This was something that wasn't really emphasized in the previous phase of PE and is all the more important given the current poor economic conditions that exist in many parts of the world at the present time. 

What this third phase of PE has in common with the second phase is at the fabrication level.  That is, we are again talking about creating fairly complex devices using printing processes.  And the motivation at least is fairly strategic; printing is seen as important so that these devices can become fairly ubiquitous.  However, there is in this latest phase of PE development, a lot more thought being given to how and why the market could lead to such ubiquity.

Revisiting OLED Encapsulation
Published: September 24, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials OLEDs

The fastest-growing applications for OLEDs involve larger-area panels that, by definition, consume larger amounts of materials. NanoMarkets recently estimated that the size of the total OLED materials market will exceed $600 million in 2013, and that the value will grow to over $4 billion in sales by 2018.

Most importantly, over $500 million of this revenue will come from encapsulation materials and technologies.  However, the success of the market is not a foregone conclusion; better encapsulation technologies at reasonable costs are required if larger-format OLEDs are going to meet their potential.

These larger OLED panels are expected to have much longer lifetime requirements, and the consensus is that today’s dominant cover glass-plus-epoxy strategies will not be sufficient, particularly in cost-sensitive applications like OLED lighting. 

Thus, the OLED industry is looking toward encapsulation as an area of strategic importance, and as a key enabler for meeting its OLED commercialization expectations:

• Generally needed are encapsulation technologies that provide high barrier performance, yet are cost effective. OLEDs are notoriously vulnerable to degradation by water vapor, but good barrier solutions must be inexpensive enough to not hinder widespread commercialization.

• There is a need for barrier films and coatings that can withstand the high temperature processes used to make transparent thin film transistor (TFT) backplanes for bottom-emitting OLED display structures.

• Finally, there is also a growing need for flexible barrier technologies compatible with roll-to-roll fabrication methods in order to meet the needs of next-generation displays, which may be rigid displays made in higher-throughput, roll-to-roll (R2R) fabrication schemes or may be flexible/bendable displays.

New Strategies for Encapsulation

Now is the time for the OLED industry to become better acquainted with opportunities emerging from the important encapsulation sector. As noted above, the new OLED markets have larger average panel sizes and much higher product lifetime expectations, hence more sophisticated encapsulation technologies with better performance are required to enable real growth.

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Advanced Glazing Market Opportunities
Published: September 24, 2012 Category: Glass and Glazing Smart Technology

These new demand patterns that NanoMarkets has identified are accompanied by important technological developments too.  As we have suggested above, the new highly insulated glazing systems that were described at the beginning of this account are sufficiently different from more conventional windows product to consider them a new kind of product. 

But the likely technological evolution of advanced glazing systems, NanoMarkets believes, seems likely to go well beyond simply a radical performance improvement to include a much higher level of functionality for advanced glazing systems.  These new directions will succeed, NanoMarkets believes, because they are very much in tune with the demand patterns we have already explained. 

Among the technological patterns in the advanced glazing systems business are the ones that are discussed below.

Incorporation of smart windows concepts into advanced glazing systems:  In this context smart windows are usually referred to as “dynamic glazing.”  And a shift to dynamic glazing is already beginning to be noticeable, at least in the sense that this idea is receiving a lot of attention in glazing industry trade magazines and at high profile trade shows.

Apart from the fact that not many construction firms and architects have yet been sold on advanced glazing systems, this technology is not all that mature.  However, dynamic glazing technologies are improving and add a new dimension of both thermal and lighting control to the advanced glazing concept

BIPV integration into advanced glazing systems:  Similarly drawing on the latest developments and materials used in BIPV and incorporating them into advanced glazing systems seems like an intelligent product design move for the future.  BIPV could power dynamic glazing or be used as a more general power source for the building thereby better enabling zero-energy buildings.  The building owner, manager or occupant would also benefit from the implicit economies of integration implicit in this kind of integration. 

One might think that BIPV integration into advanced glazing systems might occur before the incorporation of dynamic glass.  BIPV glass is a relatively mature technology that is being supported by stable firms, some of which are quite large.  Nonetheless, NanoMarkets has yet to see much commercial activity in this space, beyond some stirring in the BIPV community.

Lighting integration into advanced glazing systems:  A similar trend is possible for lighting; that is to say in the future we may see lighting built into windows, which might for example, become panel lights at night and more conventional windows during the day.  More complex arrangements that let in some light while artificial lighting is also used are also possible.  And, of course, the lighting involved in such arrangements could be on the inside or outside of the building or both.

Of all the possible technological trends that we discuss here, this suggestion is the probably the most speculative, because the technology to accomplish it is not really with us yet.  OLEDs – given better encapsulation – may well serve quite well in the future in an advanced glazing system into which lighting has been built, but the technology has some way to go before it could work well in a commercial window/lighting panel such as that described above.

Building management systems and advanced glazing systems:  Although it seems unlikely to happen fast, we also believe that some money will be made along the way by integrating active glazing systems into building energy management systems of various kinds: 

• Building energy management systems have been around for years, but have never really taken off to the degree that was once anticipated.  However, there are some recent signs that this may be beginning to change under much the same influences that we have identified for advanced glazing systems themselves.  If active/smart glazing systems begin to take off in the marketplace, then it is reasonable to assume that building management systems will quickly be interfaced to them.

• Lighting management systems – sometimes called smart lighting systems – are another type of control system that may be interfaced to active glazing systems where lighting is an emphasized functionality of such systems

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New and Expanded Opportunities in PV Encapsulation
Published: September 24, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

However, this softening of demand for PV is at least partially mitigated by the ongoing shift in market share toward more TFPV compared to conventional c-Si PV.  This trend, in turn, is causing a shift in demand for encapsulation in PV applications from market-dominant c-Si PV, which requires minimal encapsulation, to TFPV that, in most cases, requires the use of much higher environmental barriers.

On the other hand, the penetration of TFPV will happen gradually, rather than sharply, and we are not certain it will happen rapidly enough to overcome sluggish overall growth prospects.

The end result of this analysis is that the encapsulation industry cannot rely on the TFPV industry to provide new business based on rapid growth. Complicating the picture, too, is the fact that growth will occur only as long as the TFPV industry is able to keep up with the continuing cost reductions in the c-Si sector, and as long as the flood of low cost Chinese silicon modules cause minimal disruption to the TFPV business models – a scenario that is looking riskier all the time.

The expected trajectories of the different PV sub-sectors and their impact on encapsulation business are quite different:

• The cadmium-telluride (CdTe) PV industry is still driven by a single firm, First Solar, which has struggled recently to maintain profitability and underwent a major restructuring in 2012. First Solar’s dominance has created a de facto entrenchment of glass for encapsulation of CdTe, which means that there are few opportunities for other materials (or other suppliers) to gain entry.

GE’s plans to enter the CdTe PV market have been put on hold for “at least 18 months”, given today’s dismal market conditions for CdTe PV. But, First Solar has rebounded a bit recently, and if things continue to turn around, and First Solar can once again demonstrate that CdTe PV can effectively compete with c-Si PV, then GE and other panel makers may again enter the fray. 

This new scenario could present opportunities for encapsulation suppliers to gain entry by offering products that provide better lifetime, cost, or other market-differentiating advantage beyond that which current technologies can offer.

• The situation has also been difficult at firms producing copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide (CIGS) PV. The past few years have seen several firms exit the CIGS business altogether (Solyndra, Veeco, Inventux, etc.), and many others have slowed production, closed plants, and cut jobs.

However, we think that this struggling industry was in need of consolidation, and the remaining firms may be in a better position now to learn from the mistakes of their failed counterparts. Innovative firms will look for new ways to reduce costs and improve performance, both of which are very much tied to the choice of encapsulation.  In addition, the prospects for flexible encapsulation technologies are quite promising in CIGS PV.

• Thin-film silicon (TF Si) is still around, and still accounts for the biggest chunk of the TFPV market.  We expect this sector to remain large throughout the period covered by this report, but we also anticipate that its market share will continue to shrink as other more cost-effective PV technologies take hold.

In this market, we think that cost cutting, rather than innovation, will rule the day, which means that there are unlikely to be many opportunities for new barrier technologies, unless they can quite convincingly and immediately cut costs.

• Meanwhile, organic PV (OPV) and dye-sensitized cell (DSC) PV have struggled to take off as quickly as expected, and the outlook for these sectors, although promising, remains very uncertain. OPV is in particularly bad shape, with the exit of Konarka, although we think the prospects for other OPV firms to be better than one might expect.

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New Opportunities for Optical Films in the Display Industry
Published: August 29, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Combining functionalities and reducing costs:  A growing trend that we also expect to see in the LCD films and coatings space is combination of functionalities.  This may also lead to more marketable displays, but its most immediate impact is on reducing costs and thus – potentially at least – increasing profitability for the display makers.

The display industry has never been especially profitable and as new kinds of displays begin to come onto the market, LCDs will become even more margin challenged, since they will have to improve in performance along a number of dimensions to compete with the newer display types.  This could involve expensive design and materials considerations and manufacturers of their LCD films and coatings are likely to be able to make money by tapping into this need.

One can see this trend in the latest diffuser films used in LCDs.  In the past, most of these have been simple filled plastics, but we think that there will be growing use of more sophisticated, engineered films that both diffuse the film and enhance light transmission.  A similar development in polarizers is 3M’s dual brightness enhancement film (DBEF), which is a reflective polarizer film that combines the technology of the 3M ESR film product with polarizing functionality.  It is typically used in addition to the rear polarizer, and is placed directly before the rear polarizer after any other brightness enhancement films used in the system.

New directions for LCD films and coatings:  While the increase in or combination of the functionalities for standard LCD films and coatings is probably the lowest risk product development strategy for these materials, there are other bolder approaches that could be tried.  There are some specialty applications that can be pursued, but, by definition these could never lead to large revenues: 

• An example of what we are talking about here would be dye-filled polarizers have improved stability but are less efficient and tend to give darker LCDs, and are thus used only is specialty applications. 

• Another example, are light-deflecting prism films for specialty applications like borderless displays have become a product type generating some attention.  These films are useful in some smartphone devices that have optional double-sized display functionality, for example.

There are also examples of new directions for films and coatings in the display industry that could add new functionality to LCDs.  Probably the most obvious example of this are privacy films.  Such films were very prominent at the 3M booth at the recent SID 2012 conference and exhibition, for example.  Privacy films control the direction of emitted light and are typically found in personal mobile devices, computer monitors, ATMs, and other displays designed for use by one person at time.  That said, it is important to recognize that new directions for optical films of this kind are by definition more risky.

New Kinds of Optical Films and Coatings for Non-LCD Displays

Some of functionalities for optical films and coatings will transfer quite nicely to the newer types of display, at least with some adaptations.  Obviously, antiglare and antireflection films are expected to be used as often in OLEDs as in LCDs, and in similar ways.  And if privacy films take off in the LCD sector, there is no reason to suppose that they will not take off in (say) the OLED display sector.

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Checking in on OFETs
Published: July 26, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials

A Changing Landscape – Finally

But this story is not new. OTFTs/OFETs and organic memory devices were, at one time, one of the darlings of the advanced materials sector, but the early hype largely dissipated as their huge potential was in stark contrast to their disappointing reality.

In the past, this market has frequently been seen, at worst, as a laboratory curiosity or, at best, a technology of the future with no clear path toward commercialization. For many years, the performance, especially the mobility, of the organic materials found in these devices was far too low to enable anything approaching widespread adoption in organic electronics, and the production methods were more difficult—and more costly—than initially thought.

Today, however, NanoMarkets believes that the industry will be able to break out of this pattern, based on both improving materials performance and a maturing of the device manufacturers. This initial push will, in turn, lead to broader addressable markets and a less niche-like industry structure.

Important materials trends include the following:

• The performance of key materials, notably the semiconductor mobilities, but also the processability and processing windows of the materials, have improved greatly since NanoMarkets’ last report on this subject. Today, materials performance is good enough that arrays of OTFTs/OFETs with a large number of small-sized components with reasonable power can be achieved.

• The relatively recent availability of n-type organic semiconductors with reasonably good mobility has significantly increased the size of the potentially addressable market, because now complementary circuit design (analogous to CMOS) in OTFTs/OFETs is possible. Complementary circuit design offers simplicity, lower power consumption, and better performance than non-complementary, p-type only designs.

• Materials suppliers and technology developers include not just startups like Polyera (U.S.) and Plextronics (U.S.), but also major, international chemical giants like Germany’s Merck/EMD and BASF.  These firms have long been interested in this sector, and today are making more visible, and seemingly more serious, efforts towards materials commercialization, with a focus on scale-up, quality control, and supply chain logistics. 

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OLEDs, Flexibility and the Transformation of the End-User Market for Alternative TCs
Published: July 19, 2012 Category:

NanoMarkets believes that we can reasonably assume that OLED panels will emerge as an important market for transparent conductors over the next five to 10 years.  Apart from in some trials, all OLEDs to date have made use of ITO. However, there are some major questions hanging over ITO's continued use as a TC.  One major issue here is the fact that ITO does not make smooth films. This can result in color distortions and electrical distortions.  In addition, ITO has a chemically active surface that can lead to ions diffusing into other layers of the OLED stack.  And for large panels—notably large OLED lighting panels—ITO is inadequate to spread the voltage adequately resulting in uneven lighting.

It far from clear yet that ITO alternatives can offer better than ITO, but what is clear is that these and other similar problems open up a new front for manufacturers of ITO alternatives to battle on.  We also note that the OLED community—especially those involved with lighting—are very open to replacing ITO and this has been a focus of important R&D projects.  Materials cost is also of especial importance in the context of OLED lighting, because the business plans of most OLED lighting firms call for prices to fall to a point where OLED lighting panels are widely affordable.

While the touch-screen and TFPV market mentioned above offer opportunities for the newer TC materials, they are already markets targeted by the alternative TC sector.  The OLED market because of its potential for growing to a very large size in a reasonably short period of time is an emergent market for new TCs.

For now, however, ITO seems to be fairly entrenched in the OLED space, but NanoMarkets believes that there are good prospects for OLEDs to migrate away from the use of ITO en masse in the next few years.  That said, one factor in the OLED space that is seldom mentioned though is that the OLED displays only need one transparent electrode, so a shift from LCD to OLEDs could impact the overall addressable market for TCs quite negatively.

Transparent electronics: Another new area, which NanoMarkets believes could yield new revenues for the transparent conductor market is “transparent” electronics. We take transparent electronics to be something of a catch-all category that includes transparent displays, smart windows, BIPV glass, and other “smart glass” applications. 

This area may eventually include some very innovative products; panels that are windows by day and lights at night and may also have PV capability, for example.  But this kind of thing would seem to lie well off in the future.  For now, we are talking about mostly smart displays (for signage and augmented reality), smart windows (a market segment that is receiving considerable attention at the present time) and BIPV glass (another fast growing segment).

We are not aware that any of these sectors are crying out for new kinds of transparent conductors, but they all use transparent conductors to a significant extent and all these sectors are high growth areas, so at the very least we are looking at a new high-growth niche area for transparent electronics.  With regard to growth potential a particularly exciting possibility is that the rise of “augmented reality” will push an additional (but small) transparent display into all high-end tablet and smartphone products. It is known that Apple is seriously considering this possibility for iPhones and iPads.

What will happen with this sector with regard to its use of transparent conductors is highly speculative.  Obviously though, optical transparency could become a competitive issue in this sector.  There is probably no alternative to ITO that could do a better job than ITO at the present time.  But this may change going forward. 

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A Better Case for Alternatives to ITO in 2012 and Beyond
Published: July 17, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials

There is, however, a different kind of uncertainty that NanoMarkets sees factoring into the argument for alternative TCs, but in a positive sense.  And this is the uncertainty associated with indium supply created by the present Chinese government’s approach to industrial policy. 

Depending on who one listens to, China currently controls between 50 and 70 percent of the world’s supply of indium, so Chinese national policy with regard to this metal is very important to the future of indium.  And since well over 80 percent of all indium is used for ITO, what the Chinese government says about indium is important to the TC business as well. 

For the past few years, the Chinese government has made indium the focus of policy in two senses. First, it has closed some zinc extraction facilities that produce indium for environmental reasons.  Second, it has taken the view that Chinese indium suppliers are not getting a high enough price for this metal; so Chinese indium exports have become the subject of export controls. 

In the more recent past a new and important factor involving Chinese regulation has been thrown into the ring.  Both formally—through its current five-year plan—and informally, the Chinese government is now strongly committed to shifting Chinese industry to one that produces higher-value products and is more concerned with supplying the needs of the burgeoning Chinese middle class.  The government has targeted specific high-tech industries for rapid development and this includes some that make significant use of ITO; displays and PV panels, most notably.  It is therefore fair to assume that Chinese indium will soon start to be reserved for domestic ITO makers and this domestic ITO will be used in Chinese displays, solar panels and other products.

Some of these “domestic” panel manufacturers may well turn out to be foreign-owned firms that move to China to benefit from a vibrant Chinese domestic market and therefore will have access to local Chinese-made indium/ITO.  Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that this radically new situation will soon create significant uncertainties for the ITO market. 

These uncertainties are uncertainties of access. To what degree will access to ITO through established channels dry up?  And so on.  Such questions will, most probably, translate into OEM and display makers’ fears that can be exploited to some extent by the makers of ITO alternative materials. 

So here is an uncertainty—which unlike the technological uncertainties associated with novel materials—is actually positive for the makers of alternative to ITOs.

Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that there is a window of opportunity for manufacturers of ITO alternative materials to exploit this opportunity.  While there are some legitimate reasons for worrying about access to indium and ITO in the short- to medium-term as the result of the latest Chinese policies, there seems little reason for these worries in the long run:

·         Indium is not a rare metal per se and there are plenty of other potential sources for it outside of China; in Latin America, for example.  If prices start to rise above a certain point, there is little doubt that other sources will emerge in a few years.

·         There are also some reasons to doubt the efficacy of Chinese indium policy in the first place.  After all, there is no evidence that Chinese export policy with regard to indium has had much impact on price.  Demand from end-user markets seems to be a more powerful factor in determining indium/ITO prices.

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The Latest Advances Changing the Prospects for OLED Materials
Published: July 16, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials OLEDs

The Need for Bigger Panel Sizes and the Importance of Solution-Processing

Panel size is also getting a lot of development attention. For large-area OLED TVs and OLED lighting to realize their full potential, panel makers need to demonstrate scalability and break into general illumination market(s), respectively. Materials suppliers can seize the opportunity by developing materials that enable an easier shift toward larger areas.

The most promising path to achieving larger areas at lower cost, and the path that many are betting on, involves a transition to solution processing for the fabrication of the OLED layers.  Development, and demonstration of the viability of large-area patterning methods, based on OLED materials inks and/or coatings, would eliminate the problem of sag-prone fine metal masks.

While GE (USA) has struggled with its development of printed OLEDs (admittedly on flexible substrates), others have forged ahead with development. DuPont Displays (USA), UDC, and Merck/EMD (Germany) are all betting on solution-deposition, and are actively developing materials compatible with the various solution processing technologies under development.  Included in the possible solution-based patterning technologies are aerosol jet printing, ink-jet printing (less advanced), and various other printing or coating methods.

What Ever Happened to Polymer OLEDs?

Printed polymer OLEDs have been in the “development phase” for a very long time now, and NanoMarkets has become skeptical that they will ever emerge from that phase. In fact, we think it is increasingly likely that the polymer OLED approach will simply be abandoned at some point and replaced with the more promising (and more proven, at this point) solution-processed small molecule approach of DuPont Displays and others.

That said, there is at least one firm – Sumitomo (Japan) – that may prove this assessment incorrect.  Sumitomo controls most of the key IP in this sector, and is the only firm still actively (and publicly) pursuing development of applications for polymer OLEDs.  There have even been a few signs of hope in the last year: 

·  The firm announced plans to invest modestly in a new materials plant, which we think it could be doing to support a printed polymer OLED TV program at partner Panasonic.  It is just as possible, however, that Panasonic will go another way, i.e., toward solution-processed small molecule printing.

·       Sumitomo has made a strategic shift toward OLED lighting, and plans to start producing its own OLED lighting panels in 2013 for, probably, demonstration purposes and to advance the cause of polymer OLEDs in general. Sumitomo’s goals for lifetime and efficiency are lower than those planned by the “mainstream” OLED lighting industry, but the company is betting that its lower costs, and flexibility, will be an attractive trade-off.

·         But the key word here is “demonstration.”  Polymer OLEDs need to move out of the demonstration phase, and quickly, or get left behind altogether.

Thus, the real question is whether Sumitomo will be successful at finally proving the viability of large panel manufacturing based on printing polymeric materials. Surely, Sumitomo has put more effort into this goal than anyone.

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OLED Materials:  What Has Changed Since 2011?
Published: July 12, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials OLEDs

Factors That Could Challenge the Growing OLED Market

Despite all of the promise, each industry segment still faces challenges that may (or may not) be holding up demand, many of which offer corresponding opportunities for suppliers to respond with a material solution.

For smaller displays, manufacturing capacity and scale up are the key challenges.  Today, Samsung is the only firm making small-sized AM OLEDs in appreciable quantities, and while even Samsung is certainly still in the early stages and still has plenty of room to improve on performance, manufacturing yields, etc., the firm certainly has not had much trouble convincing consumers of the value of OLEDs in mobile computing devices. 

As Samsung expands further, and as other display makers grow, too, then the growing materials demand seems secure for the time frame of this report, especially if tablet computers take a steadily increasingly market share as expected.

While OLED TVs from Samsung and LG Display are poised to make a big splash this year, at $8,000 to $10,000 each, they are clearly out of reach of the average consumer.  Thus, the panel makers need to find ways to bring prices down, which means they need to find ways to cut manufacturing costs. Surely, some reductions in cost will come through improving manufacturing yields, improving processes, and economies of scale.  But materials suppliers have a role to play as well.  We are thinking here specifically of materials and materials deposition technologies compatible with low-cost/large-area solution processing.

In addition, it is still an open question whether current OLED material sets can provide the lifetimes required in the OLED TV sector.  OLED TVs are expected to have much longer lifetimes than the average mobile computing device. Thus, materials suppliers can create a distinct competitive advantage by developing and commercializing new materials sets that convincingly solve the lifetime (and differential aging) problem.

Finally, large materials revenues in the OLED lighting sector will only be realized if OLED lighting can transition out of its current designer kits and luxury luminaire phase and into large-area, high volume general illumination markets, like office lighting. In this case, the critical factors are similar to those found in the OLED TV market. Materials and materials methods that enable low cost/large-area OLED panel production through, for example, solution processing, are very promising.

Also, lifetimes in the OLED lighting market must be greatly improved. Lighting products are expected to have much longer service lifetimes than the average display, and they must compete with inorganic LED lighting products that have extremely long life. Thus, lifetime is yet again another area in which materials suppliers can create value.

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BIPV Encapsulation Markets Preview
Published: April 26, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

Flexible Module Encapsulation Opportunities

While near-term opportunities for BIPV encapsulation are centered mostly on rigid modules, NanoMarkets’ research indicates that flexible module encapsulation will be the long-term growth area for high margin opportunities for new materials in BIPV applications. 

And although current flexible modules are mostly limited to a-Si modules with some CIGS-based modules now becoming more routinely available, flexible high efficiency CIGS module growth will drive the majority of growth for encapsulation in the foreseeable future in the flexible module area.  

Flexible substrates and encapsulation have several inherent advantages compared to rigid substrates in BIPV applications. 

• The biggest advantage of flexible modules is their ability to conform to curved façade surfaces.  

• Another major advantage is module weight compared to rigid modules.  Modern rigid modules weigh 10 to 30 kg/m2, while flexible modules are on the order of 3 to 5 kg/m2. 

• Flexible modules also have an aesthetic advantage over rigid modules, which contain iconic but unattractive silicon wafers or polysilicon modules in rectangular framed modules.  In contrast, the latest flexible BIPV products can be ordered in custom shapes for application to cover an entire façade with very inconspicuous seams and thin-film absorbers that present an attractive uniform exterior surface.   

While flexible thin-film-based modules have many advantages over rigid modules for BIPV applications in theory, several practical issues have greatly limited flexible BIPV adoption to date. Reliability issues, high cost, and poor efficiency have limited the appeal and use of flexible BIPV to date. 

The limitations of current encapsulation materials are at the heart of all of these concerns.  From an efficiency perspective, until recently, flexible BIPV has been limited to a-Si, which has less stringent encapsulation needs for oxygen and moisture penetration than high efficiency CIGS modules.  And because flexible BIPV has generally been limited to a-Si, the efficiency has been capped for these modules around 8-9 percent. 

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Metal Oxide Thin-Film Transistors as a Key Enabler for AMOLED Displays
Published: April 20, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

After years of rapid growth, the flat-panel display (FPDs) industry is slowing down.  This is due to sluggish economies worldwide, in part.  But another force is at work too; market saturation.  When LCDs first reached the market at affordable prices – some 15 years ago or so now – there was a huge installed base of CRT monitors and televisions just ripe for the picking.

Today, the old CRTs are mostly gone. The display industry is looking for new strategies to restore growth.  One of these is to bring to market new display technologies that offer something that LCD cannot.  The hope is that with the next big display technology hitting the market, consumers will be willing to swap out their old LCDs for “what’s next.” This might revive the display industry’s flagging fortunes.

A successful new display technology must offer a sufficient improvement over LCD and at an attractive enough price to incent consumers to behave as the display makers would like them to.  This is not an easy goal to achieve when one considers that LCD can now boast a couple of decades of manufacturing and product engineering experience to its credit.

The Problem with AMOLEDs

A key example of what we mean here is active matrix OLEDs (AMOLEDs).  Because they promise more vibrant color than LCD, as well as flexibility and dramatic thinness, they have long been touted as a successor to LCD.  They are already present in the market place in small area applications like smartphones, but are expected to make a concerted push into the market segments where the display area is significantly larger, such as TVs.

But AMOLED displays have had trouble making it to commercialization. This has been especially true in large area displays, where production issues have been plaguing the technology. Additionally, AMOLED displays need high mobility backplanes because of the high current levels needed to drive light emission from the organic diodes.

Amorphous silicon (a-Si) backplanes, which are commonly used in LCD displays, have not worked well in the AMOLED environment and until recently, the only other high mobility backplane material available to the AMOLED market low temperature poly-silicon (LTPS).

LTPS is feasible in small area applications, and is in fact the backplane used in the AMOLEDs displays in the smartphone market at present.  But it is prohibitively expensive to manufacture for large area screens.  It has potential issues with uniformity and stability in such applications.

Enter Metal Oxides

If AMOLEDs cannot be deployed for large-area applications, then, by definition, AMOLEDs cannot replace LCDs as a dominant display technology.  Worse, if AMOLEDs are restricted to small mobile displays then economies of scale for both OLED material manufacture and the production of AMOLEDs themselves cannot kick in, again thwarting high hopes for AMOLED technology. NanoMarkets believes that the technology that will cut through this Gordian knot are backplanes that are based on metal oxide thin-film transistors (TFTs).  Such TFTs will also be sold into the conventional LCD sector and will generate more revenues from LCD applications than for AMOLED applications.  But in the AMOLED sector, they will be more essential and will prove a key enabling technology for AMOLEDs.  Here’s what metal oxide TFTs can offer the AMOLED business. 

• A high mobility, with big enough currents to drive AMOLED displays and respond to the higher refresh rates of next generation displays;

• Relatively cheap large-scale production, that is easily scalable to large substrates;

• Small pixel sizes and hence, high-resolution displays; and

• Larger aperture ratios compared to a-Si, allowing for higher transmission through the backplane which can increase the brightness of the display without an increase in power requirements.

Growing Industry Interest in Oxide Backplanes for AMOLED TVs

We note that hardly a display industry conference goes by these days without multiple papers being read on oxide TFTs.  And NanoMarkets’ believes that oxide TFT-based backplanes may well be the technology that propels AMOLED displays into the display mainstream. There can be no doubt that – after many years in the R&D wilderness – oxide TFTs are attracting considerable attention from big name firms such as Sharp and Samsung, the latter being especially important because it dominates OLED display manufacturing.

The primary focus of much of this activity is television sets.  As we have already noted, this is where the backplane challenge is the greatest.  It is also where the willingness of the consumer to switch technologies would have the most impact; because TV displays are so much larger and more expensive than mobile displays.  And while all the focus on AMOLED TVs in the large OLED display space at the present time, can OLED computer displays be far behind?  

However, NanoMarkets is not suggesting that in either the computer sector nor in the TV sector will change come quickly.  Both computer displays and TVs are products with relatively long lifetimes and, in any case, there are other problems with large OLED displays that need to be overcome.

On the other hand, the intrinsic economics of oxide backplanes will be pushing display manufacturers to adopt such backplanes quite quickly.  What oxide backplanes bring to the table are an attractive combination of low capital expenditures and low-cost manufacturing process:

• From the capital expenditure point of view, the dollar requirement for refitting a production line for large area LTPS production can run into the low billions of dollars. By contrast, oxide TFTs plants are about a sixth to eighth of that capital expenditure.

• While AMOLED prototypes were demonstrated early in 2012 with both LTPS and oxide TFTs, it is the opinion of NanoMarkets that in going forward, AMOLED TVs will favor oxide TFTs, as their low cost and production scalability are enabling factors in the AMOLED TV reaching a reasonable level of penetration. 

And Smartphones Too

The role of oxide TFT backplanes in the smart phone sector is a little different than in the TV sector.  On the one hand, we are talking about a sector that is much more of a reality than the AMOLED TV sector.  Millions of smartphones using AMOLEDs are now shipped every year and they seem to be doing quite well in the marketplace.

In addition, metal oxides backplanes are ideal for satisfying important requirements of smartphone (and tablet) displays including:

• Low power consumption.  Obviously important in a handheld device with limited battery life and where the display is a major contributor to the drain on the battery.

• Screen resolution.  This has been of growing importance as consumers expect better image, photo and video quality out of their handheld devices. This, in turn, has been due to the evolution of handheld devices into entertainment products, with cameras, games and applications becoming strong selling points

• Sunlight readability.  Unlike in indoor large area screens, is an important consideration for handheld displays and implies a requirement for a high degree of brightness.

NanoMarkets believes that Oxide TFT backplanes can help in all these regards; at least to some extent.  This because of the inherent high mobility of the material, combined with the small pixel sizes that it can be used to create.

However, all these positive factors for the use of oxide TFT backplanes must be balanced against the fact that – unlike in the large display sector – oxide backplanes can expect to face significant competition from LTPS.

This is not to ignore the disadvantages of LTPS that we have already mentioned. However, as we have also indicated, these are less of an issue where LTPS is used in small displays, such as those found in smartphones. 

But what might deter the use of oxide backplanes for smartphones is that:

• LTPS is already common in AMOLED displays for smartphones and displays makers in this sector may be quite reluctant to shift to oxides, since many of them have only recently established LTPS facilities. 

• While making such a switch in the long run may be cost advantageous, equipment will have to be amortized first.  Since oxide TFTs do meet the mobility requirements of AMOLED displays could still place oxide TFTs in a strongly competitive position with TFTs in the smartphone sector over the course of the next decade.

• In addition, while oxide TFTs are superior to a-Si TFTs along a number of dimensions, they are superior to LTPS TFTs only on cost.  Metal oxide backplanes cannot match LTPS on mobility and driving currents.  So any future switch from LTPS to oxides would have to be justified from the perspective of cost efficient production alone.

NanoMarkets believes that high mobility backplanes have a very important role to play in the AMOLED display industry over the course of this forecast period and beyond. As should be clear from the analysis above metal oxide TFTs represent a technology that offers value propositions for the AMOLED sector that are hard to match with any other available technology.

The Coming of Age of the DSC Market
Published: April 13, 2012 Category: Renewable Energy

The Performance of DSC PV Continues to Improve

Today, champion cells at various key DSC firms top 12 or 13 percent, but these values are for small cells, usually of 1 square centimeter, measured in very controlled settings.  Conversion efficiencies are much lower, as the realities of scale up and manufacturing keep actual peak conversion efficiencies closer to 4.5 or 5 percent:

• A-Si PV conversion efficiencies for commercial products hover around 10 percent, Furthermore, a-Si PV is a mature technology with limited potential for further efficiency improvements, while the potential improvements to be made in DSC PV over the next few years are significant. 

NanoMarkets also notes that while the a-Si industry is somewhat dispirited after ramping up for a big boom that never happened, the DSC industry is quite enthusiastic about its prospects. 
Thus, DSC manufacturers are now engaged in an effort to get commercial efficiencies up to the levels obtainable in the lab setting.  This effort involves optimization of materials, device fabrication techniques, module development, and various integration and connection considerations.

And the industry is making progress on this front; recently, Australia-based Dyesol announced the successful production of a 1.2 meter by 60 centimeter single-substrate DSC module for BIPV applications.

• Peak conversion efficiency is not the only measure of performance—and potential value—for DSC development.  Important measures of performance for DSC also include performance under other lighting conditions, and comparisons such as “25 percent better” than other cells, or “more uniform power” throughout the day are commonplace in DSC marketing literature.

For example, G24 Innovations (G24i) just announced a record-setting 26 percent average conversion efficiency (ambient light, 200 lux).  By contrast, a-Si PV suffers from sharp drops in efficiency in low light, off-angle light, and high heat environments.

NanoMarkets believes that the focus on this potential advantage to DSC indicates the growing recognition that DSC PV is attacking a different kind of market than the (currently) more efficient inorganic PV technologies and that, consequently, different kinds of measures may be more appropriate.  More specifically, DSC manufacturers are often marketing their products for indoor or other low-level illumination settings—or at least on total kWh output—instead of on peak watts in full sun. 

The emergence of BIPV applications is a key example of this trend, and as we stress throughout this report, NanoMarkets believes that DSC’s low-light PV performance advantage will translate into a substantial commercial advantage in the BIPV market, where PV cells are often called to function in more shaded areas.  It may even be the case that in some market niches, DSC may be the only PV technology that is suitable for use.  

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OLED Lighting in a Low-Growth World
Published: March 13, 2012 Category: OLEDs

Phasing out incandescent bulbs is likely to speed up the OLED lighting market, but in the end all this can do is help the market reach saturation faster.  With rapidly declining prices expected in the OLED lighting space, the most likely long-term impact on the OLED lighting market of phasing out incandescent bulbs will be rapid penetration for a few years following the phase out, followed by fairly slow growth for OLED lighting in dollar terms after that. 

Regulation in this sense helps the OLED lighting business by bringing revenues earlier than might have otherwise occurred.  But it also brings the market saturation point closer too.

The OLED Lighting Industry is in Deep Thought Mode

Some observers of the OLED lighting scene and even some insiders seem to think that absence of news from OLED lighting in the past year is a sign that things are not going so well technically; that performance and size have not been improving to the degree expected.

There may well be some truth to this. However, one reason that NanoMarkets is not too pessimistic about this development is that we have seen this type of pattern in the evolution of a new technology before.  It is easier to make progress in a field when one is first starting up in it.   We think that OLED lighting has reached a point where the industry is primarily focused on solving technical problems of which there are many.  None of these problems seem (to NanoMarkets anyway) to be insurmountable, but they will take time to resolve. 

The primary takeaway from all this, is that there is really unlikely to be any great leap forward in penetration of the general illumination market for the next (say) three years until some of the "kinks" in OLED lighting are straightened out.  For now the OLED lighting market is entering into a less flashy phase when major manufacturers are focusing on creating higher volume manufacturing facilities—factories that can take OLED lighting beyond the pilot line stage—and on improving the cost/performance ratio for OLED lighting.   These are not always easy things to do and tend to focus the collective mind of management more on practical matters than on PR.

Within a few years we would expect OLED lighting to start to grow quite fast as it reaches price points and performance levels that will take it into mass markets.  This seems to be the view of many of the OLED lighting firms too, although there are also less charitable views of what is going on in the OLED lighting market and there is some sentiment that OLED lighting will never find sales much beyond the luxury/showroom kind of lighting where it is used now. 

In addition to the worldwide economic situation, which is discussed above, the reason for pessimism in the OLED lighting market is usually a sense that OLED lighting will never reach a point where it can be sold effectively on its high energy efficiency or that it will never reach acceptable price points or that OLED lighting panels will never be large enough to be easily used in office lighting.

Again, NanoMarkets is not so bearish and neither apparently are a lot of large companies.  Still, we think it is time to reconsider our forecasting model for OLED lighting in depth, in terms of the current technical state of the art, market structure and price points for OLED lighting.

Deeper analysis of pricing trends:  Our previous pricing analysis has primarily been made on the basis of unit prices, which we still believe is the approach that should be taken, because in the final analysis, OLED lighting panels substitute for existing lighting, which is invariably sold by units, not by the square foot.

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Reexamining Silver In Photovoltiacs
Published: March 07, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

More to the point, the opportunities available for suppliers of silver and silver products into the PV space are highly dependent on policy considerations, which should be judged a significant risk factor in view of the current worldwide financial problems. In summary, silver materials suppliers are not going to have it especially easy in the near future, even though the end of subsidies could be good news in the long run, since it encourages market-oriented PV technologies (even if the near-term effects are certainly chilling).

Finally, as noted above, c-Si PV is losing market share to TFPV technologies.  This shift will occur gradually, rather than sharply, but it will happen nonetheless, and it will have a measurable, and negative, impact on the consumption of silver in PV. Optimistically, we think that these internal technology transitions in the PV industry will yield new opportunities for some firms that know where to look for them. So, for example, while suppliers of conventional silver printing pastes will feel the pinch, suppliers of new nanosilver-based transparent conductors may grow. And, in NanoMarkets' opinion, the opportunities can only get better over time, since with subsidies removed, firms are more likely to come up with innovative new types of solar panels with even more uncertain requirements.

The Effect of the High Price of Silver on Its Consumption in the PV Market

Cost has always been important in PV applications; a central thesis, after all, is that PV can be a more eco-friendly alternative to carbon-based fuels.  And PV technology has a way to go to meet its goal of cost parity with conventional energy generation technologies for on-grid applications. Note, for example, that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) claims that solar production costs must be under $50 per square meter, or less than 5 cents per watt, to be cost-effective in distributed power and the utility-scale production of electricity.

This inherent cost sensitivity in PV presents a problem for silver suppliers. Silver has always been an expensive metal and probably always will be.  But the most obvious change in the silver inks/pastes market since our last report is the seemingly persistent high price of silver, with no relief in sight.  Silver commodity prices have been pushed upward because of the uncertain global economic environment in which investors have shifted increasingly toward “hard” assets. Silver exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have accumulated large stores of silver in order to handle the increased demand for precious metal investments.

At the time of this writing, silver prices have somewhat stabilized, but they have done so at a level nearly twice that of just two years ago (in inflation-adjusted dollars).  And there are no good reasons to believe that the situation will change very much over the next five years or so.   This development is not particularly good news for the silver materials suppliers, since their costs are largely determined by the price of silver, which is outside of their direct control.

Among these negatives, however, there is at least one reason for optimism on the part of suppliers of silver materials to the PV industry. Silver’s conductivity is unrivaled; this performance ensures that there is often no suitable substitute, which means that the demand for silver is quite price-inelastic. In fact, the high price of silver is now a fact of life for many electronics applications, including many PV-related ones.

However, suppliers should not be complacent. High silver prices will induce PV firms to look for silver substitutes, and sustained high silver prices—over more than just a few months or few quarters—will give these substitutes a chance to take hold. Indeed, there are already important subsectors of the PV market where cheap non-silver alternatives are taking market share away from silver, namely backside electrodes/reflectors and tabbing pastes, just to name a few. Clearly, at least in some cases, there are alternatives to the use of pure silver that might not be as good as silver, but are good enough performance-wise, and much better than silver cost-wise. 

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Changes in the PV Market that May Influence the Adoption of Smart Coatings
Published: February 27, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

How Smart Coatings Improve the Value Proposition for PV

It is not clear how far the PV industry is willing to go with respect to adoption of smart coatings.  The degree of penetration will hinge on two factors. The first question relates to cost; panel makers must be convinced that smart coatings can boost the performance of PV without adding so much cost that the economic benefits of the added coatings are negated. The second, and even more important, question is how well smart coating-enabled PV products will do in the marketplace.

Smart coatings can be broadly divided into two categories:

• Smart coatings that improve the basic performance of the PV panels, thereby helping to create higher performance PV products with better cost-in-use propositions to customers, and

• Smart coatings that add novel functionality to PV panels, thereby creating new types of devices and end-uses for the PV panels and higher profit margins for panel suppliers.

Within these categories, the most obvious opportunities for smart coatings in PV are for coatings that can increase efficiencies.  This area is promising because the PV market is very likely to buy into increased efficiencies, as long as the increase in efficiency takes cost into account. For example, self-cleaning coatings may be employed to prevent dirt accumulation, thereby improving panel efficiency.  But to be worthwhile in the marketplace, they must be practical solutions for the life of the panel. In other words, coating maintenance must be simple and inexpensive enough so as not to negate their benefits or erode their value below their cost.

At the other end of the scale, smart coatings that add novel functionally could certainly make PV panels stand out in the marketplace, but it is far from certain to what degree customers will care about the added functionality. Using smart coatings to add novel functionality should therefore be regarded as a much riskier proposition than using them to increase efficiency.

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Changes in the Photovoltaics Market for Transparent Conductors
Published: February 23, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

NanoMarkets' eight-year forecasts suggest that the market for transparent conductors (TCs) in both inorganic and organic thin-film photovoltaics (TFPV) applications will be about $90 million in 2012 and grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 30 percent to a value of over $635 million by the end of the forecast period in 2019. NanoMarkets anticipates this growth despite the current difficult overall environment for PV, in which government subsidies are under threat and in which there are huge pressures to reduce TFPV costs to make TFPV competitive with c-Si PV and with other sources of energy in general. 

The biggest change since the last NanoMarkets report on this subject is the very different economic situation surrounding PV in general. By all accounts, the PV market in 2012 is entering a period of lackluster growth, which is in stark contrast to the last several years that saw year-to-year doubling (or more) of the market, even in the midst of worldwide recession.  But now a glut of conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV modules on the market after over-production by the Chinese PV panel makers, along with dropping prices, is expected to significantly slow growth rates in PV production starting in 2012 and for the next few years.

The other big change is in the political environment. Lingering fiscal concerns in important global markets in the United States and the European Union coupled with slow growth and high unemployment have led governments around the world to consider serious cost-cutting measures in an effort to reduce debt. To date, most subsidies, feed-in tariffs, and other tax incentives for PV remain in place. However, their future is uncertain; governments are likely to see these subsidies as targets for the cost-cutting axe. And the Solyndra scandal in the U.S. in 2011 didn't help matters with respect to public opinion related to government support of particular companies or technologies.

But what does all of this mean for TCs in PV applications? TCs are used principally in the thin-film and organic PV sectors rather than in the c-Si sector.  And since TFPV in general is gaining share versus c-Si PV, the market prospects for TCs in PV applications are better than they might appear at first glance.  We believe that the pace of growth in the TFPV markets will offset declines related to decreasing government support and slow overall economic growth, but we also believe that the days of really rapid growth are over, especially in the more established TFPV sectors of thin-film silicon (TF-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide (CIGS) PV.

That said, opportunities exist for TCs to create value for leading-edge PV technologies. To capitalize on these opportunities, TC suppliers need to implement active business development plans designed to make the case that costs can be reduced without sacrifices in performance. Examples of the kinds of arguments that can be made in favor of particular TCs or TC suppliers include the following:

• Indium-free transparent conducting oxides (TCOs), or the "alt-TCOs", can replace whatever expensive ITO is left in the PV sector with minimal impact to existing production methods. Some TCOs are better suited than ITO to particular PV types based on their lower cost, commodity-scale availability, processing temperature window, or work function match to the rest of the TFPV cell.  For example, fluorine-doped tin oxide (FTO), which is widely available in pre-coated glass sheets, is a natural fit for most rigid, superstrate PV configurations; on the other hand, aluminum-doped zinc oxide (AZO) is a good fit for substrate-configured cells that require lower temperatures for TCO deposition and a lower work function metal.

• Implementation of new target systems or new deposition processes, such as by transitioning from conventional planar targets to more efficient rotary targets wherever possible, could greatly improve utilization rates and directly affect the bottom line.  In addition, TC (and equipment) suppliers can partner with panel makers on the optimization of existing deposition processes to maximize TC mobility, which would improve cost-per-watt values and improve the competitiveness of a particular TFPV technology for on-grid installations.

• For the most cost-sensitive and for indoor or shorter-lifetime applications, conductive polymer TCs can offer prospects for big reductions in cost, especially if high efficiency is not the most important factor for commercial success. Recent advancements in the conductivity of conductive polymer-based TCs, long a problem for these materials in the most demanding applications, make this argument more convincing.

• In the long-term, solution-processable nanomaterial-based TCs, such as those based on nanosilver, another nanoscale metallic coating, or carbon nanomaterials, make economic sense.  Solution processing can be especially attractive for new PV lines where existing vapor deposition equipment is not already entrenched, and solution processable TCs will become an even bigger factor as the relative importance of flexible PV increases over the next decade.

• Finally, anticipated growth in the "premium" building-integrated PV (BIPV) market is opening up new opportunities for TC suppliers to expand or gain entry in a subsector of the PV market that is less cost-sensitive than the market as a whole.

The Aesthetic and Cost Promise of BIPV
Published: February 17, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

But the big question is whether improving BIPV glass in this way really makes that much difference in the sense that customers are really in search of transparency.  If this is the case then product strategies aimed at improving transparency without too much cost in terms of either money or efficiency will be important.  However, NanoMarkets believes that the jury is still out on this matter:

·       On the one hand, it seems to be common sense that significantly more opportunities would arise, if BIPV glass would achieve a transparency that is much closer to that of window/vision glass, even though BIPV glass may never be chosen where one wants to provide visual access to some beautiful scene.

·       On the other hand, many of the applications in which BIPV glass is currently used do not seem to be crying out for a lot more transparency.  In any case, there are limits on what can be achieved in terms of transparency because PV panels are inherently absorbent.  And while the sunlight could be transported from the window or other glass building material to a somewhat remote PV panel, this could not be done easily without lowering the efficiency of the panel or even maintaining a reasonable claim that the term "integrated" applies.

However, to better exploit the opportunities that do occur for BIPV glass firms to compete on transparency, we note that there currently appear to be three classes of product strategies:

·       The standard strategy is to create BIPV glass panels by simply glazing together small opaque solar panels and window glass in a kind of mosaic; if the cells cover (say) 50 percent of a surface, then the BIPV glass panel will be 50 percent transparent.  This has the advantage that it is a purely mechanical form of integration that can be accomplished through local glazing

·       Special forms of optical devices can be deployed that enable BIPV glass panels to be built that are not blocked by PV cells.  Pythagoras' prisms are the most obvious example of what could become a broader class of technologies

·       Or newer, more transparent PV absorbent materials can be used.  Most BIPV glass today uses crystalline silicon absorber layers which are inherently opaque. Better transparency could be achieved at a reasonable level of efficiency using other absorber layers such as very thin layers of CIGS or dye sensitive cells.

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Opportunities in Smart Lighting
Published: January 26, 2012 Category: Emerging Electronics

How Smart Lighting Will Overcome the Burden of its History

We think that there are several key trends that change the economics of smart lighting in ways that get over the issues raised above.

Rising cost of energy:  NanoMarkets believes that the rapid industrialization of China and India will push up the real cost of energy dramatically in the next decade.  In addition, current monetary policies in major countries suggest energy prices in money terms will be subject to general inflation.

These trends are likely to increase the value of any energy savings systems and create a growing need by lighting consumers of all kinds to find cost efficient ways of cutting down on their lighting bills.  If smart lighting can be shown to be one of these ways, then the rising cost of energy in real terms will be good news for the lighting community.  Automation of lighting that could not be cost justified in the past may now make economic sense.

The question that still needs to be answered, however, is whether the customer will see the savings produced by the smart lighting system as worth it, given the system’s upfront costs.  This is hard to determine at this point; in financial terms we don’t really know what discount rate customers (especially residential customers) will apply to future benefits from smart lighting systems.

New lighting technology:  Lighting is currently undergoing a transition from the incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lighting that has been around for decades to more energy efficient lighting. Most visibly, we are seeing this in the change from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and the steady emergence of solid-state lighting (SSL).  SSL is already appearing in the form of LED lighting and has been recognized as a major opportunity by all the leading lighting industry players.  And beyond the LED, lies even more potential in the form of OLEDs.

The trend towards energy efficient lighting has two major implications for the smart lighting market.  On the demand side, it creates a marketing environment in which energy efficient lighting is highlighted, so the smart lighting seems more of a no-brainer than it did say, five years ago.  On the supply side, the 75 percent of the lighting market that is not made up of bulbs and tubes—the part made up of luminaires and electronics—has a strong incentive to go with the flow and embody “smartness” itself.  This changed environment is one reason why the market may well be finally able to embrace smart lighting, while it was not necessarily so enthusiastic about smart lighting’s ancestors. 

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Changes in PV and What It Means for Transparent Conductors
Published: January 26, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

Optimistically, we think that internal technology transitions in the PV industry will yield new opportunities for those coatings firms that know where to look for them. TC materials used in thin-film PV are not a settled matter across the sector.  New suppliers entering the TC space in PV are often not battling entrenched materials and entrenched suppliers. And, in NanoMarkets opinion, this opportunity can only get better over time, since with subsidies removed firms are more likely to come up with innovative new types of solar panels with even more uncertain TC requirements.

The importance of flexible PV to opportunities for TCs: TFPV and organic PV are also diversifying, with increasing proportions of flexible products and new approaches to reducing costs.  These trends include the increasing importance of building-integrated PV (BIPV) types, which are at least partially flexible, and of flexible versions of OPV and/or DSC PV.

As these changes in the industry occur, there will be new opportunities for suppliers of other transparent conductors.  Flexible products will take their toll on ITO and the other TCOs, and additional opportunities for more flexible materials—conductive polymers and nanomaterial-based films—will emerge.  Similarly, the high cost of vacuum deposition for even relatively cheap, indium-free TCO materials will support the development of printed or coated alternatives—using the same conductive polymers and nanomaterials—simply to enable reductions in manufacturing costs and to enable production of low-end/low-cost “disposable” PV cells for use in the growing, ubiquitous printed electronics industry.

Why Cost is So Important in PV

Cost has always been important in PV applications; a central thesis, after all, is that PV can be a more eco-friendly alternative to carbon-based fuels.  And PV technology has a way to go to meet its goal of parity with conventional energy generation technologies for on-grid applications. Note, for example, that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says that thin-film solar production costs need to be reduced by as much as 75 percent—down to under $50 per square meter or less than 5 cents per watt—before cost-effective distributed power and utility-scale production of electricity from TFPV can be realized on a widespread basis.

The pressures for low cost exist throughout the PV industry, but are arguably most intense in TF-Si PV. As a mature technology, TF-Si has already exhausted many of its options for cost reduction through economies of scale, and hence panel makers are now left to target bill of materials (BOM) and manufacturing cost reductions. For this reason, ITO is disappearing in favor of lower-cost TCOs.
As noted above, the CdTe PV industry already uses FTO as a low-cost alternative to ITO. And cost pressures across the PV industry may now encourage those panel makers that are still using ITO in CIGS, OPV, and DSC PV to make the switch toward lower-cost TCOs.

Eventually, even alternative TCOs will be seen in some cases as too costly.  When this occurs, manufacturers will thus renew their interest in other materials, particularly if they don’t involve the costly vacuum deposition equipment used for TCOs.  And this opportunity applies not only to TF-Si, but across the other TFPV types as well.

In summary, overall, the TFPV sector is still far from mature. In many sub-categories, it has yet to settle on TC materials.  For example, the struggling (but still big) thin-film Si PV sector has turned toward FTO, CIGS PV uses mostly AZO, and FTO is already standard in CdTe PV. These sectors have turned to different TC options not solely because of performance, but also because of the need to reduce costs. This fact, in turn, indicates that there are real opportunities for suppliers of alternative TCs to make the case for their materials on a cost-savings basis.

Even with this potential, however, NanoMarkets believes that capitalizing on the opportunities will require a serious rethinking of how money is going to be made in TCs for PV applications.  A more active business development program is required—one that is designed to convince TFPV players that costs can be reduced without sacrificing performance using a particular TC material. In the near- to mid-term, this means alternative, indium-free TCOs, and in the long-term less expensive nanomaterial-based alternatives make sense.

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UDC’s Prospects in the OLED World to Come
Published: January 17, 2012 Category: OLEDs
OLEDs have broken through in the past 18 months, and there is renewed hope in the industry that OLEDs will finally live up to their long-promised potential. 

Full color, AMOLED displays are now part of the mainstream, with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone products leading the way. OLED TVs appear (finally) ready for commercialization in the next year or so.  OLED-based lighting is also already on the market; although these products consist almost entirely of luxury lighting at the present time, large lighting panels for offices may just might be the next big thing in the lighting market.  (Or at least the big-thing after the next big thing.)

One materials company – Universal Display (UDC) – seems to be benefitting strongly from these trends.  UDC has pioneered phosphorescent OLED (PHOLED) technology for quite a few years now and it is widely accepted that only the use of PHOLEDs will enable OLEDs to reach the efficiencies required for truly deep penetration by OLED technology.

Already, almost all commercially available AMOLED products already employ PHOLED technology, with only the blue PHOLED emitters still lagging (a bit) in lifetime performance.  And there can be no doubt that UDC is a huge beneficiary from this situation. 

Nearly all of the important OLED manufacturers are already UDC licensees, including Samsung, which currently makes more than 90% of the OLEDs in the world.  Other UDC licensees include LG, Lumiotec, AUO, Chi Mei/Innolux, Panasonic Idemitsu Lighting, Pioneer, Konica Minolta, Philips, Sony, and NEC.   That’s a pretty impressive list!

Understandably, in the suddenly booming state of the OLED industry, other firms would like to be in the PHOLED space too.  Duksan and Sun Fine Chemical are two possible contenders in this space, for example.  It is also well understood that the only effective way to undermine UDC’s dominance in the OLED materials market is weaken UDC’s IP position.  Based on this understanding, patent challenges – some successful, others not – have been brought in Japan, Korea, and the EU.

So one has to ask the question, “just how vulnerable is UDC really?”  And our answer to this question is “Not very. At least not in the short term.” 
 
NanoMarkets believes that the most likely scenario is that UDC will remain a key player in the OLED materials market for the foreseeable future; and the dominant player in its chosen niche for some time to come.  The facts of the case are that (1) only some of the UDC IP – and not the key¬ patents – is under attack; or at least this is what UDC says, (2) in most geographies, UDC patents remain unchallenged so far.

UDC holds key patents related to iridium phosphors. No one disputes this, and recent “news” that UDC’s patent had been invalidated in Europe was misleading.  The EU patent office upheld UDC’s claims on iridium emitters, although it did request that claims be based on other core materials be separated out into other applications.

It is also true that three patents have been invalidated in Japan in a suit brought by Korean materials supplier Duksan, which has a vested interest in not losing its Samsung business to UDC. But the invalidated patents were not fundamental composition of matter patents.  Also, the JPO decision is under appeal, so the ultimate outcome is still unknown.

Meanwhile, the UDC juggernaut rolls on.  The company has continued to sign both new and extended licensing agreements. For example, both Pioneer and Panasonic Idemitsu licensed the UDC technology last year, and Samsung recently renewed its license of UDC technology, saying that it plans to start using UDC green emitters and plans to commercialize products with UDC blue materials "as soon as they can be qualified." Even Lumiotec, which had been holding out without a UDC license and launched its first products on an all-fluorescent platform, recently reached an agreement with UDC and is now transitioning to PHOLED technology. 

And, UDC has also its own de facto development line in the US in the form of its joint development project for OLED lighting with Indian firm Moser Baer. The heavy involvement of UDC means that the Moser Baer line can effectively serve as a "test bed" for UDC materials, which will further strengthen UDC’s ability to maintain its dominance in the industry.  In addition, UDC has at one time or another announced working partnerships with DuPont (in the solution-processed material business), GE (in the R2R OLED business), Novaled (once rumored to be a UDC acquisition target), and others.
 
We also think that UDC could benefit tremendously from the growth of the OLED lighting industry, where efficiency will be a key factor in contributing to OLED lighting’s cost proposition and ability to compete against other alternative lighting technologies like LEDs.  And we expect OLED lighting to use very large amounts of material after 2015 or so.

And we believe that the various IP challenges currently amount to the usual semi-desperate attempts by other materials firms to gain some competitive advantage over UDC, which cannot be achieved by any other means.
 
And yet, and yet.  None of the above should be a reason to turn a blind eye to UDC’s very real vulnerabilities going forward, we think will manifest themselves in one form or another. 

For example, we expect that UDC is going to end up in an increasing number of patent disputes in important countries including the U.S.   Now, UDC has plenty of cash on hand to defend itself against any future attacks on its IP; the company is currently sitting on about $250 million raised from investors last spring.  But as we know, courts are unpredictable institutions and it seems reasonable to believe that at some time and in some place, some court is going to invalidate an important UDC patent. 

Also, the EU court decision makes it clear that UDC cannot claim property rights over non-iridium cores.  Such cores are in development and when they appear, the force behind UDC’s patents may be seriously diminished.

The good news for UDC is that commercialized non-iridium materials would seem to be years off; although surprises happen.  Meanwhile, to adjust to the new realities, UDC will have to transform itself into a new kind of company and we are beginning to see the company do just that through its expansion into other OLED materials – hosts, HILs, ETLs, encapsulation chemistries, etc.

With these other materials, UDC can capitalize on its reputation for high quality and it strong supply chain relationships.  And it may even develop strong new IP along the way. 

But in the meantime, we suspect that the assault on UDC is only just beginning.  As the OLED industry gets bigger and bigger there is more and more incentive for other firms to come gunning for it. 
 
Disclaimer: The author owns some shares of UDC (PANL).
Applications Driving Growth in Conductive Coatings
Published: January 09, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Satisfying Demand for Conductive Coatings with New Materials

It is important to realize that none of the markets described above are expected to throw off old conductive materials and embrace new ones, and we think that slow penetration should be built into any forecasts of new materials sales in the conductive coatings sector.  However, the fact that in the past 1 to 2 years – roughly the period since NanoMarkets last published a conductive coatings report – firms selling transparent coatings made from conductive polymers and nanosilver have taken a small share of the market away from ITO should be regarded as encouraging.

This example, of course, is just one of many that have changed on the supply side of the conductive coatings market.  More generally, the appearance of new metal oxides, nanomaterials and conductive polymers in commercially available conductive coatings has broadened the choice of materials:

• Incorporation of nanomaterials is probably the most exciting trend that NanoMarkets can see in the advanced coatings materials space.  These materials have a long way to go in terms of product development, but we expect big things from them.  Not only do nanomaterials potentially go a long way to enhance the performance of conductive coatings, they can help reduce manufacturing and/or materials costs – preferably both – in applications.

• Given that metallic coatings are always going to be a preference where conductivity is an issue, nanometallic coatings seem to be of particular importance.  But carbon nanomaterials are also interesting in the context of conductive coatings, although they are also deserving of some skepticism in this regard. Carbon nanotube transparent conductive coatings have not done as well as some hoped a few years ago.  But new firms are getting into this market, and the costs of CNTs are rapidly declining.  Then there is graphene, everyone’s favorite material at the present time; which may or may not be the way to go in the conductive coatings market in the future.

• We also cannot help but note that conductive polymers are now out there in real world products serving as transparent conductive coatings.  Still there is only so far this trend can be pushed.  Conductive polymers are not without drawbacks, particularly with respect to their relatively low conductivities and stabilities compared to pure metals and many conductive metal oxides.   This performance issue means that despite progress, the addressable markets for conductive polymers are always going to be limited.

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The Importance of Electrodes for Lithium Battery Performance Improvement
Published: January 04, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Lithium-ion batteries are a technology poised to see a large growth in revenue in the next five years because of their potential in applications such as electric vehicles (EVs), consumer electronic devices and Smart Grid applications. That there is a clamoring in the market for a drastic improvement in lithium-ion battery technology is obvious to see:

• EVs are trying to compete with the internal combustion engine, an established technology that is likely not going to be beaten in the mass market anytime soon. 

• Smart and application laden consumer devices are rife and are only becoming more application heavy, which is a huge draw on battery life. 

• Additionally, power companies are pushing to respond to residential and industrial energy needs with smart energy grids to reduce the number of brown outs and blackouts and the ability to integrate renewable energy sources into the grid. 

Of all the battery chemistries contending for a place in these markets, the lithium ion is arguably the best poised to enter and capture sizeable portions of these segments or at least has a fighting chance to do so, but a performance increase is necessary to assure this battery chemistry gains a strong foothold.

The Importance of Electrodes for Lithium Battery Performance Improvement

A fact worth noting here is how mature the lithium-ion market is. It is not a market where disruptive, performance enhancing technology is common. But with a sudden projected increase in unit volume and performance demand, there is now potentially a very large market that is not having its needs ideally met.

The realizable market opportunity exists because of the plateau that the current industry standard electrodes have reached. Technological innovation currently provides a minimal increase in performance year to year in current lithium-ion batteries:

• It is more processing improvements and improvements in cell design that have been providing incremental improvements in battery performance in the recent past.

• However the performance demands of the market are growing at a pace too quick for the tweaks that can be made to the current battery to match. This mismatch between the expectations and needs of the market and the inability of the current industrial state of the art has provided a technological gap that needs to be filled. Since performance of the lithium-ion battery is so heavily performance driven, a large opportunity here exists for developers of anode and cathode materials.

To successfully enter and maintain its hold in the newer market segments listed above before strong inroads are made by other battery chemistries, the lithium-ion battery, NanoMarkets believes, needs materials advancements to propel it out of the performance plateau that the current industry standard has found itself in.  As a result, the time is ripe for a profound improvement in the performance of the lithium-ion battery, and novel electrode materials are being investigated to provide this:

• The current graphite anode, and the lithium-cobalt cathode used in the most common lithium-ion chemistry are at the point of being phased out because they are nearing the limit of technological innovations that significantly improve their performance.  The fact that the lithium-ion battery hasn't had a strong performance boost in recent years, leaves the door open for other battery chemistries to make strong cases for themselves.

• Nonetheless, there is no outstanding novel electrode material technology that has made it to the production line and satisfies the expected increasing demands in battery performance.

• Additionally, certain technologies have proved to be better at addressing specific value propositions. There are inherent tradeoffs when attempting to improve the performance of the lithium-ion battery, and this makes it nearly impossible to find a material improvement that will provide an improvement on all fronts. Each technology addresses the needs of particular market segments, and with targeted efforts, material developers will see a real revenue opportunity from potentially high volume and/or high growth market segments.

The development of advanced materials that will replace the current state of the art anodes and cathodes is based on the improvement in energy density and/or (depending on the market segment) power density provided to the battery. Having mentioned the "make or break" nature of the energy and power density properties, it is important to note that each market segment will identify certain key secondary properties that materials developers need to have a very strong handle on. Weight, form factor, life cycle and environmental impact are a few such examples. This is where product differentiation among electrode technologies will decide which materials will excel in a given market segment. While the differences may be subtle between market segments, it is the deciding factor between materials producers not aligning the value proposition of their product with the demand of their target segment.  

Cathode improvements:  Cathode materials tend to provide more diversity in terms of the cell characteristics they have an impact on. While anode materials are being investigated mostly to improve the energy density of the cell, various cathode materials can either improve the energy or the power density, provide faster charging times, more safety and/or lower costs.

The cathode reaction in the lithium-ion cell is also a safety concern, and while the potential to improve the energy density must be considered, the stability of the materials in the cell environment is a crucial concern.

A lithium-manganese based cathode is right now the furthest penetrating competitive technology to the conventional lithium-cobalt cathode. Other materials that bear looking at are:

• Lithium iron phosphates and their derivatives.

• Composites of nickel, manganese and cobalt are being developed specifically for the automotive market segment. With development being pushed in tandem by established companies in both the battery and automotive spaces, we can expect this technology to be a frontrunner to capture the opportunity in that segment.

Anode improvements:   Next generation anode technologies are typically identified by their potential to hold lithium ions. In general, replacement anode materials have been less common than those for cathode materials:

• At this stage silicon, nanostructured carbon, and oxides of titanium and vanadium have been identified as viable alternatives to graphite for this enhanced ability.

• The metal oxide materials are seeing development in the labs of the larger, more established materials suppliers. Hence, their entry time into the market is expected to be quicker due to ease of integration with current battery manufacturing processes.

• Silicon has the highest theoretical capacity for lithium ions, but until recently has had problems with durability. However structural modifications to the silicon electrode have let it become a potentially disruptive technology in this market. The silicon anode is a materials technology that is being pioneered by smaller, early stage companies hoping to make a strong impact in the industry. While it has a longer development timeline, its potential to make an impact is sizeable, making it a materials technology worth investigating.

Nanomaterials: The manipulation of the physical structure of the active electrode material also creates another opportunity in this space. In an effort to increase the surface area for the storage of charge and to address issues with durability (due to the significant expansion and contraction of some materials when they take up or release lithium ions), developers are using processing techniques to create nanostructured versions of electrode materials.

Nanoparticles or nanotubes in the form of a powder are examples. The opportunity that could be realizable here is for producers of binding materials that provide a conducting matrix in which the nanostructures can be embedded. Binding materials are already being used in batteries to hold together powder based electrodes and improve conductivity, and will continue to see applicability as electrode materials are pushed towards powdered forms to increase surface area for lithium-ion absorption.

Finally, a big question materials developers will need to answer as they see a realizable opportunity before them in a very mature market is how they are going to integrate their product into the production line of battery manufacturers.

The more established companies like Sony, Sanyo and Samsung will already have this in mind when thinking of the materials they are developing but new entrants to this market will have the added burden of creating manufacturing processes compatible with current production processes unless they want to bear the manufacturing cost of the entire battery. A company's approach to this challenge will be a significant product differentiator and will determine of which market it can realistically meet the unit volume demands.

Reality Check On CIGS PV
Published: January 04, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

CIGS in a World of Reduced Subsidies and Economic Uncertainty

The value proposition of thin-film PV is clear.  If it can be executed at a price point that is competitive with coal and natural gas, it provides a competitive more environmentally friendly though variable source of electricity.

While the current PV landscape is dominated by an oversupply of crystalline PV cells (crystalline PV module prices have fallen by 50% over the past eighteen months), the longer-term outlook for thin-film PV, and CIGS in particular, provides a compelling argument for this technology to be a significant factor in the PV landscape. CIGS is attractive for several reasons:

• CIGS uses more than an order of magnitude less absorber than crystalline cells;

• CIGS lends itself to flexible modules and roll to roll processing techniques; and

• It is the only thin film technology that approaches the efficiency of crystalline cells.

Any successful CIGS company will, however, have to be constantly innovating both to improve yields and aggressively cut manufacturing costs.  Data over the past several years shows that all PV technologies are on an aggressive cost curve, and any technology or company that cannot stay on that curve will be doomed to failure. 

Even though subsidies in the US and Europe may be diminishing, the commitment to subsidize solar energy in China may minimize the effect of reduced US and European government aid.  China recently increased its solar surcharge to support solar and other renewables from .004 CNY to .008 CNY per kWh.  China is committed to increasing their renewable energy portfolio to 15% by 2020.   While not all of this growth will be thin-film solar, it represents a significant market that will be subsidized to meet this goal, regardless of the economic fundamentals compared to available fossil fuels.

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Time for a Dose of Market Realism in “Printed Electronics”
Published: March 01, 2010 Category:

In Praise of Market Realism

At NanoMarkets we see things very differently. First, we think that if we have to wait ten years for printed electronics to take off, then we are talking about an academic research program, not a commercial endeavor. This is fine, of course. But no venture capitalist or corporate investment committee is going to make a substantial investment in a technology that is a decade away from taking off. Nor will they buy a futuristic story of printed and organic electronics becoming a mega-industry in twenty years. At a time when tight credit, incipient inflation and continuing worries about the health of the global financial system are in play, long-term investment in risky technologies is a fool's game.

The other issue is that continuing to keep the conversation on the technical realism isn't enough. Market realism is what really needs to be embraced.

A Semantic Digression

One implication of this shift is that we need to stop talking about "printed electronics," and instead find a name that is suggestive of functionality, one that customers may actually buy into; that is, a title that is market oriented in the same way that printed electronics is technical.

This little semantic exercise shouldn't be too hard to do, because "printed electronics" has always meant more than just printed electronics. It has typically been taken to include organic electronics and some newer forms of thin-film electronics. As a presenter at a recent industry gathering we attended put it, "when we say organic electronics, we also include printed electronics." This really makes no sense at the purely semantic level, but those of us who have watched the evolution of printed electronics know exactly what he meant.

Nonetheless, redefining printed electronics to include a particular class (or particular classes) of materials really isn't all that helpful either. "Use the best and most appropriate materials available" is still a technical prescription; it is an example, once again, of technical realism, not of market realism. The market doesn't care what materials you use any more than what fabrication equipment you use.

Where we think market realism is pointing us is toward terminology that emphasizes flexible electronics or plastic electronics, which we take to be (more or less) the same thing. There are four good reasons for thinking of the new electronics in this way.

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