A conductive polymer boom

Inherently conductive polymers (ICPs) are finally about to leap from the laboratory into the commercial world.

Invented in 1977, ICPs have been around for a while, but their true commercial potential has never been realised.

Brian Balmer Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan explains, ‘until now, ICPs have been aimed at the traditional conductive polymer markets of electrostatic discharge packaging and anti corrosive coatings. However, they found it difficult to compete on price with existing conductive polymers which are produced by incorporating materials such as carbon black, carbon fibre or fragments of stainless steel into the base polymer. Hence their performance in these markets has been poor. But, new cutting edge technologies such as organic light emitting diodes for flat screen displays, dimmable windows and fuel cells will see sales of ICPs rocket over the next 6 years.’

The fastest growth area for the use of conductive polymers is that of Organic Light Emitting Diodes OLEDs, which are a new way to generate, light, using organic materials rather than the complex crystalline structures found in traditional Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

OLEDs are used for the production of flat panel displays that include cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), monitors and televisions. The current global OLED market stands at about $3 million and is expected to mushroom to more than $700 million by 2005.

Current advances in display technology will very shortly enable a new generation of flexible and formable ultra-thin displays to become more widely available. In the longer term, displays of all shapes and sizes will become part of the structure of our surroundings and inexpensive, paper-thin displays will be incorporated into the walls and even the furniture of our offices and homes. Displays could also be flexible and transparent, allowing large area flexible displays to be rolled up for storage and transport. You will even be able to roll up your PC screen! Transparent displays could be used in windows to provide advertising space for shops, or to show travel information on car windscreens.

Low power all-plastic displays, when available in full colour versions, will be of obvious attraction in emerging wireless Internet handsets. Design engineers currently possess few viable display alternatives for use in these consumer electronics applications whose use is set to explode in the next three years.

A new study is currently available from Frost & Sullivan that examines the current and future potential of three main types of ICP – polyaniline, polythiophene (PEDT) and polypyrrole. For more details visit the company web site.

On the web