This report focuses on the markets, requirements and current and emerging technologies of transparent conductors. Worldwide research and design efforts are presented, both from research institutes and companies that are developing the necessary materials and processes - over 50 organizations are profiled. It covers metal oxides, organic materials, and emerging alternatives including inorganic meshes, carbon nanotubes, graphene and more. The penetration of these options into applications such as displays, photovoltaics and touch screens, and others, is given for the next 10 years.
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The importance of Transparent Conductive Films (TCF)
Transparent conductive films are used for displays, some photovoltaics and touch screen modules. In 2012, 93% of the market uses Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) - which can be expensive depending on the current price of indium and is brittle, and barely flexible. Other metal oxides are used, particularly in some thin film photovoltaics which offer a cost advantage over ITO.
However, now there are many other emerging technologies, from finely printed conductive meshes, to layers of silver or copper that are highly transparent, to organic transparent conductors, and variations such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. This report assesses the technical progress of these options, and their market sweet spot (if any) and forecast penetration.
Transparent Conductive Film market US$ millions*
Each option has trade-offs between conductivity, cost, transmittance, and flexibility. Each can be patterned in different ways. While sputtering will remain an important and high-volume technology for coating of rigid substrates like glass, solution-based processes including printing and the use of organic and nanoparticle materials have already gained a lot of traction and are expected to dominate the market for the flexible applications within a few years. Significant new developments are being made with both the materials used and how they can be deposited. This report addresses the performance of the different options and profiles organizations around the world that are developing better solutions.
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The biggest opportunity
The biggest opportunity has been - and for the next decade will be - for displays, but this increasingly includes a wide range of displays including OLEDs, which is now the priority of companies such as Samsung.
While ESD (electro static discharge) applications have moderate requirements concerning the properties of TCFs, demands in devices such as OLEDs are more complex. The main reason is that in that case, not only the standard properties as conductivity, cost, transmittance and flexibility are important, but the interactions with other layers play an important role, namely charge carrier injection. In addition, for large area devices, homogeneity is more critical, especially when it comes to display and lighting applications. The human eye is more sensitive to changes in brightness than to changes in colour, and brightness of an light emitting device depends on the electrical conditions - voltage in the case of inorganic electroluminescence, current flow in the case of electrochromic and light-emitting semiconductors.
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