By Dr Peter Harrop, IDTechEx
IDTechEx is an analyst, publisher and event organiser in the new electronics and electrics. Our analysts, mainly at PhD level, travel their lives away finding and interpreting the latest research and company activity.
For the chemical industry, this sector is where the pharmaceutical industry was forty years ago – at the dawn of huge new opportunities for high margin formulations. For example, the new printed electronics involves sophisticated inks for light emitters, sensors and much more. Thin film technologies such as chemical vapour deposition calling for relatively simple precursors give way to printing inks with rheology and curing temperatures variously tailored to the very different requirements of ink jet, gravure and other printing machines and low temperature polymer substrates. Printing permits cost reduction, increased area as with the new flexible displays and flexible solar cells and sometimes better performance.
Change is rapid, with new opportunities arriving on a weekly basis, an example of this being electric vehicles land, water and airborne. This is a booming industry from hybrid cars to mobility for the disabled and silent aircraft. In electric vehicles, every component and structural material is changing radically. Lithium-ion batteries are replacing lead acid and NiMH versions, silicon carbide and gallium nitride power components permit higher frequency and temperature than the silicon ones they replace, carbon fibre reduces structural weight and aerogels, carbon nanotubes and graphene are helping supercapacitors to replace some batteries thanks to longer life and superior performance. Half the cost of a new motor or electric vehicle power supply can be the circuitry integrated into the structure these days. Printed then moulded electrics and electronics is reducing weight, volume and the cost of control and lighting modules while increasing reliability. The individual components are increasingly vanishing into structures and the greatest added value for this will go to the chemical industry. See the overhead lighting and control cluster in the latest Ford Fusion car for a recent example.
The chemical repertoire sought is far broader than that in the pharmaceutical industry with sophisticated organics, inorganics and carbon allotropes in composites, film and ink. For example, those involved in the chemistry of titanium, indium, gallium, zinc, antimony and lithium can derisk their investment by serving a broad range of applications in the new electronics and electrics such as the new supercabatteries, metamaterials, memristors and nano-electromechanical devices NEMS. This spans everything from animated cornflake packets to bionic man and woman. New ways of harvesting heat, movement, light and infrared into electricity are coming in rapidly and the new transparent electrics and electronics exploits many inorganic and organic compounds often combined in multilayers, compounds or composites. With this wealth of opportunity, this industry sees PVDF and its variants as a very useful active electrode binder, a dielectric, electret, piezoelectric, ferroelectric and insulator for instance.
Small and medium sized chemical companies are already prospering from this vibrant new sector, even before some of the resulting devices are commercially successful. BASF licensed semiconducting and dielectric inks for organic printed transistors from tiny Reike Metals and Polyera then bought the small business Sion Power for $50 million. It makes its own formulations for its lithium metal polymer batteries involving sulfur chemistry. Indeed, BASF is licensing other lithium battery and supercabattery chemistry from a number of organisations not yet trading. Otherwise, the usual rule applies where the small company copes with up to kilogram quantities then does a profitable deal to hand over to a large company when shipments increase.
IDTechEx has over 80 relevant reports and also has other services to assist small chemical companies to enter this land of opportunity. A good start is, “Most Needed Chemicals for the New Disruptive Electronics and Electrics” www.idtechex.com.
Then look at the category New Devices and Materials variously covering graphene, CNT, lithium-ion and lithium metal battery chemistry, barrier layers and transparent electrodes and so on in this context.