Will the Nanosilver Ink Revolution Ever Happen?
Published: December 13, 2011 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Will nanosilver ever become a major factor in the printed circuitry market? It has long been touted as having a big future in (currently nonexistent) novel “printed electronics” applications, but this has yet to be proven. The market pull for printed electronics has just never materialized in a meaningful way. Nanosilver ink makers have had a hard time of it as they have chased after new markets that do not really exist yet.

Printable nanosilver makers claim other seemingly compelling advantages over conventional silver inks and pastes, too. These include lower temperature processing and less usage precious silver. But nanosilver-based inks and pastes have been around for nearly a decade now, and they have yet to take off in the conventional printed silver markets.  What is behind the lack of progress? 

• The notion that nanosilver can accomplish what conventional silver can but at much lower loading, thereby reducing costs substantially, has come into serious question. Savings from using less silver are still largely eaten up by the higher cost of the nanosilver itself, let alone the changes in design and equipment that are needed to use it. This remains at least partially true despite high silver prices that should have led to a bigger narrowing of the cost-in-use gap between conventional silver and nanosilver.

• Economic uncertainty leads to risk aversion and causes device manufacturers to stick with the conventional silver materials with which they are already comfortable.

• The outlook for printed nanosilver is complicated by a murky regulatory environment for silver specifically and nanomaterials.

These factors have led NanoMarkets to reduce our expectations for nanosilver over the next decade.  We are feeling decidedly less optimistic about nanosilver’s future than we were a couple of years ago, and have reduced growth rates considerably.  We are now estimating that the printed nanosilver market will grow from its very small base today of about $85 million to only about $145 million by 2019. We hope we are wrong, but we have no reason to be more bullish about nanosilver at this point.

In the midst of this pessimism, there is at least some good news:

• High silver commodity prices will – at the margin – encourage more customers to evaluate using to higher-performance nanosilver. High silver commodity prices have narrowed the cost-in-use gap between nanosilver and silver in a meaningful way, even though more can be done.

• Today a large fraction of nanosilver ink costs is still tied up in processing, scale-up, and production costs, and these costs should decline further as the material matures.

• There is growth in high-resolution printing inks, especially ink-jet nanosilver inks, and especially in sensors for emerging printed electronics, where traditional silver pastes are generally not suitable. High-resolution printing is tailor-made for nanosilver, and these new applications may be able to support nanosilver’s higher price, at least for a few more years.

In this new market, nanosilver inks (and nanosilver pastes) may finally have a chance to grow beyond niche status, although probably not into a big business. After years of watching not much happen in the nanosilver inks business NanoMarkets now believes that only modest growth will come from this segment until some clear advantage of application emerges in the marketplace.