In the latest intriguing development from the emergent graphene research sector, the Graphene Center at Cambridge University has paired up with Plastic Logic to push forward on a research project that hopes to advance the incorporation of graphene into flexible plastic electronics. Plastic Logic will provide ample deposition equipment to the joint effort to help speed up the commercialization process.
The account of these developments on Optics.org indicates that the Cambridge/Plastic Logic venture targets LCDs and OLEDs, transistors, and plastic electronics—which is quite a broad research program.
As far as the first is concerned, it seems the team will try to develop graphene in the form of a transparent but nicely conductive layer that plastic backpanes can use—thus leading to nearly unbreakable LCDs or even more flexible OLEDs. This is actually a critical research focus, as the market for flexible displays and more efficient LCDs is estimated to be worth nearly $40 billion by 2020.
For transistors, the team hopes to come up with wholly new structures wherein graphene plays the part of an active layer. If the technology works, it would essentially mean drastically more efficient transistors that retain, or even improve on, the present levels of flexibility.
The last part of the research agenda—plastic electronics—is where Plastic Logic has a home advantage. The company is already established in the business of industrializing and mass-manufacturing electronics on plastic. Graphene-based technology could open up new horizons as far as flexibility of the material is concerned, which means the team could target the rapidly-expanding flexible plastic sensor market, which is estimated to blossom into a $2.2 billion market by 2020.
Cambridge Graphene Centre’s Director, Professor Andrea Ferrari, commented, “The mission of our Centre is to investigate the science and technology of graphene, carbon allotropes, layered crystals and hybrid nanomaterials. This engineering innovation centre allows our partners to meet, and effectively establish joint industrial-academic activities to promote innovative and adventurous research with an emphasis on applications.”
It’s a good thing that Plastic Logic has paired up with the Graphene Center at Cambridge, since the latter works primarily to respond to a lack of intermediate-scale printing and processing systems. These systems allow for industrial scale-up and optimization of graphene inks to be tested.
As well, the Center has a special focus on graphene-based “smart” devices that use flexible substrates while retaining standard energy consumption and utilization. This dovetails well with Plastic Logic’s expertise in organic thin-film transistors and plastic electronics; it already manufactures for commercial purposes flexible plastic displays, both color and monochrome.
Options for Investing in Graphene
It’s hard to overstate the importance of such research as far as graphene is concerned. Whereas today we’re dealing with the installation of solar panels on rooftops, we could—within the not-very-distant future—have house paint that contains solar cells. We could have foldable screens on a variety of devices, and we could have “printed” batteries. That’s the promise of graphene ink, which is basically printed circuits built of graphene.
Given graphene’s impressive properties—high conductivity, extreme slimness (it’s one atom thick), and high tensile strength—it’s logical that graphene-based conductive inks would be simply transformative across industries.
Even better is the fact that graphene-based inks would easily outdo today’s conductive inks, which are—as TechDaily points out—based on silver or copper and are thus expensive, potentially toxic, and require cumbersome infrastructure to create.
That’s why we’re seeing some early entrants to this hot new market—like Haydale, a spin-off from Swansea University in Wales. The company makes about one ton of graphene a year, which can generate almost ten tons of conductive ink. Haydale partners with Gwent Electronic Materials to produce the ink.
Electronics companies with heavy exposure to smartphones are also working to harness the potential of graphene; Samsung (OTC: SSNLF) of South Korea and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) of Finland are just two, and there will surely be many more following in their wake. The European Commission has already awarded a $130 million, ten-year grant to the Graphene Flagship in a sign of how important graphene research is likely going to be.
As an investor, you should be gathering what information you can about ongoing graphene research. One of the best parts of graphene research is that there is just so much going on—from research in flexible displays to next-generation transistors to ultra-efficient heat dispersion to conductive ink. Companies that can come out with a product that can effectively be promoted on the market are going to produce big returns on early investments.