Fat profits from thin-film electronics

According to a new report from NanoMarkets, emerging thin-film electronics applications will generate $15.5 billion in revenue in the year 2011.

The report, “The New Thin-Film Electronics” examines how advances in materials and production modalities are enabling new growth opportunities in the semiconductor business.

By 2011, NanoMarkets expects that display applications using thin-film electronics (excluding LCD displays) will reach $7.3 billion. However, over the next two years the firm believes that the market will also see significant new business opportunities emerge from other applications of thin-film electronics such as photovoltaics, batteries, sensors, information storage and lighting.

These new developments will involve some of the best known names in the electronics industry — firms such as Sanyo, Sharp and Seagate — as well as start-ups such as Konarka and Innovalight.

While established thin-film technology has had an important role in the electronics industry for many years, “the new thin-film electronics” as termed by NanoMarkets, is being enabled by a rush of new materials such as conductive polymers, high-k and low-k materials, silicon inks and carbon nanotube pastes.

New production modalities such as printed electronics and atomic layer deposition are also contributing to creating the new thin-film electronics. Added together these factors are combining to change economics and create new products. For example, some display manufacturers expect to see thin-film transistors printed with nanoparticulate silver inks replace traditional ITO backplanes in the display based on lower costs, while thin-film batteries and photovoltaic cells promise new ways of powering mobile electronics and smart packaging.

All of these new thin-film applications have potentially huge addressable markets which means that the new thin-film electronics represents not just the commercialization of a novel technology, but rather the birth of an entirely new sector of the electronics industry.

This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that many of the new thin-film applications use very similar materials and production technologies, so that as the sector advances firms that have traditionally been active in thin-film displays could diversify into manufacturing thin-film photovoltaics or lighting without major difficulties.