NanoMarkets has been following the market for transparent conductors (TC) for approximately seven years. During almost all this time, we have seen a slow march towards the use of non-ITO materials, but the emphasis has been very much on the word "slow." There have been plenty of setbacks and much hyperbole. If the public forecasts of one of the firms working on transparent conductive nanomaterials had come to pass, about half of liquid crystal displays (LCD) would be using this kind of TC by now. In reality, the actual penetration of this kind of TC in the LCD sector is currently zero!
Nonetheless, in 2011, we saw the ITO alternative market gain some momentum. New companies entered the market, some interesting new materials appeared, and some investor money went into the sector too. New applications are being penetrated as well, but mainly in the flexible display and e-paper sectors.
Predictably, 2012 has been a year in which the alternative TC market has been attempting to consolidate some of the advances of 2011. But from the outside looking in, this may appear to be a return to the slowness of the pre-2011 period.
Yet, for those of us who have had the chance to look deeper, there are encouraging signs that efforts by the suppliers of alternative TCs to build relationships with OEMs are bearing some fruit. To the extent that such relationships are ever discussed publicly, we would expect to see some interesting customer announcements in this space by the end of the year.
But the other factor that has become part of the alternative TC story in 2012 is a handful of new applications of which two—OLEDs and flexible displays—have the potential to radically transform the opportunity space for alternative TCs. Given this, we think that alternative TCs now have stronger long-term commercial prospects than they have ever had before.
To exploit such opportunities, NanoMarkets believes that manufacturers of alternative TCs must (1) reevaluate where the best markets for their materials now lie and (2) examine which of the growing number of materials strategies in the TC space truly have good commercial potential.
Such comments apply to the ITO alternative sector. However, the vast majority of the TC business is made up of ITO and most of that is sold into the liquid crystal display (LCD) sector. This sounds like a stable enough situation; LCDs aren't going away any time soon and LCD makers seem to be in no mood to move quickly to replace ITO. Yet, NanoMarkets believes it is also about to change in ways that will create new opportunities in the alternative TC sector.