The other market that NanoMarkets believes spells opportunities for alternative TCs is the OLED market. There are a number of important facts that play into this, but the key drivers are that:
• OLEDs are now a market that seems to be taking off in volume terms in quite a big way and,
• Although OLEDs use ITO almost exclusively now, ITO seems to be ill-suited to use in the OLED environment
In other words, the OLED market represents a potential for selling relatively large quantities of TC material, and while ITO may be what the OLED market is buying right now, there is a good chance that the OLED market may switch to other TC materials as it grows. This should be regarded as an exciting opportunity for alternative TCs, since OLEDs are the first display technology for many years that shows some real promise of eating into the share of the display market held by LCD.
One "threat" (it is barely that at the present time) that is worth noting is that because OLED panels use a transparent conductor on one side only, a deep penetration of the display industry by OLEDs might well lower the aggregate volume demand for TCs; since LCDs use two layers of ITO. This would probably not worry the makers of alternative TCs, since they would be losing a market they never had to begin with. However, for ITO makers this might eventually put a dent in their sales.
Transparent Conductors for the OLED Market Explosion
With regard to market size and growth issues, we note that a major leap forward in the technical capabilities of, and addressable markets for, OLEDs has occurred in the last two years and that this appears to create opportunities for alternative TCs:
• OLEDs have been commercialized for about a decade but were confined to a simple passive matrix (PM) or segmented displays. Although these devices sold in high volumes they were very small devices with limited performance requirements. They used ITO almost exclusively. PM OLEDs still have a sizeable share of the OLED market, but that share continues to decrease.
• Meanwhile, a considerable amount of effort was going on to develop larger active matrix (AM) OLED displays. For some time not much progress was made in this field and important firms dropped out of the OLED market altogether. However, in recent years AM OLED technology has improved and is now commercialized thanks largely to the efforts of Samsung. OLED-based mobile displays are now common in smartphones and very close to being a reality in televisions. The increasingly high volumes of OLED devices are already beginning to change the nature of opportunities for the TC makers, and NanoMarkets thinks of this as one of the big developments of the 2011 to 2012 period in the markets that we cover in this report.
• When AM OLEDs proved so difficult to manufacture, some companies began to look to OLED lighting as a market opportunity; no backplanes at all are needed for these devices. At the present time, OLED lighting panels are small and sold in low volumes for luxury luminaires. There are already a lot of major lighting and electronics firms in this space and their expectation is that by 2015 or 2016 OLED technology will find its way into large office lighting panels. If this in fact occurs, the OLED lighting sector may emerge as a large consumer of TCs.