Jet-printed Plastic Transistors
Large displays and other electronic panels are expensive to make. A completely new manufacturing approach will dramatically lower the cost
The flat panel display business is huge and still growing rapidly. However, along with the demand for ever larger display (e.g., the wall-sized TV) comes a big price tag, because large displays are still made by the same expensive photolithography techniques as the diminutive silicon chip. A completely new manufacturing approach is being developed that will dramatically lower the cost.
Polymeric, or plastic, semiconductors provide an opportunity to solve the problem. Polymers can be dissolved in a liquid, thus creating a semiconducting ink. This ink can be printed using the same technology that is used in jet-printers that print documents. Printing has a low cost compared to photolithography for manufacturing of electronics because both material deposition and patterning are done simultaneously. Enormous progress has been made in recent years to develop plastic semiconductors that have electronic properties suitable to drive a display.
Researchers at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) have recently succeeded in jet-printing polymer semiconductors to make transistors. The transistors have exceptional performance for polymers, and meet all the requirements for addressing displays. Along with a high mobility, they have very low leakage and good stability. The electronic properties and physical dimensions meet the needs of flat panel displays, and the complete absence of photolithography promises low cost manufacture.
If further development and commercialization of this technology yields good results, we might see our common billboards to be replaced by large flat displays presenting moving images. In fact, practically all separate display units might become obsolete. TV screens could be printed to a wall paper, etc. The same printing technology can be used to produce all kind of electronics, not just displays, in mass scale at considerably lower unit costs as today. Probably most important future applications are solar panels.
Opportunity: Very cheap electrical appliances (tv's, solar panels, etc.)
Threat: Potential environmental problems (increased energy use and waste) of very cheap electronics