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Nanotechnology Report

Transparent Conductor Markets 2010: ITO and the Alternatives

Category: Electronics Published: Jun 2010 View Contents
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he past year has seen important developments in the transparent conductors arena. While 2009 was a year of risk aversion for the users of ITO and one of delay and reassessment for the makers of alternative transparent conductors, in 2010 the specter of rising indium prices has given the makers of alternative transparent conductors a more focused target on industries that are both in the early stages of emergence and preparing to face performance and cost pressures in the near future.

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This report thoroughly analyzes the opportunities for these alternative transparent conductors as well as those for ITO to retain and even grow its share in some segments. In particular, we look at the future for ITO in the many applications in which final product prices are expected to decline, while ITO costs are expected to increase. How big a share of the BOM can ITO eat, before OEMs start turning to alternatives.

Newer, emerging technologies like OLED lighting and OPV are recognizing that they must adopt new transparent conducting materials—and soon—not only to keep costs in control but also to boost performance and to enhance the flexibility that sets these technologies apart from those they compete with. In addition, the long-standing dissatisfaction of the touch-screen industry with ITO is again taking center stage as touch-screen technologies diverge into high-end and low-end varieties. The low-end touch-screens—mainly analog-resistive ones—continue to face durability issues with the repeated flexing of brittle ITO while cost issues are escalating as ITO returns to higher price points. Meanwhile, at the high-end of the touch-screen market the focus is turning toward improving optical and electrical performance, especially if doing so can provide pathways to lower cost as well. And newer transparent conductors are not limited to the electrodes in displays and touch-screens; they are also beginning to displace other materials for electromagnetic shielding and electrostatic charge dissipation.

This is not to say that ITO is on the way out everywhere. Indeed, in ITO’s largest market by far—conventional flat-panel displays, especially LCDs—process conservatism and performance sensitivity will cause ITO to remain the dominant transparent conductor in this huge market, and in the overall transparent conductor market, throughout the eight-year scope of this report.

With these considerations in mind, this report provides a new opportunity analysis against the backdrop of the transparent conductor market landscape: ITO, the clear leader in both the largest market—displays—and in applications that are not yet commercial; other transparent conducting oxides (TCOs) that provide cost relief but little else; transparent organic conductors that are having a heyday in antistatic and other lower-performance applications; and the expanding field of nanomaterials including carbon nanotubes, graphene, metal nanowires and nanoparticles, and composite materials combining one or more of these materials, sometimes with others like ITO or organics. The report also explores the alternative approaches to ITO deposition, mainly the on-again, off-again efforts toward commercializing ITO inks.

This report is required reading for all suppliers of ITO and alternative transparent conductors as well as for firms using transparent conductors—especially if considering a change to a different material or process—and investors in the transparent conductor companies, materials, and technologies. We discuss strategic marketing issues and provide forecasts of the market penetration of each of the transparent conductor classes, as well as discussing the latest activities of the leading and most promising companies working in this field.

The past year has seen important developments in the transparent conductors arena.