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Nanoelectronics August 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Nick Evans

Commercial Links Underlying Progress in Quantum-Dot Displays

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Quantum-dot technology transformed the display industry by enabling LCDs to match OLED displays on color quality. Links between quantum-dot developers and major players in the display and materials industries lie at the heart of this revolution.

Description

The following recent developments suggest that quantum-dot technology is likely to remain at the forefront of the display industry for at least the short- to medium-term future:

  • In March 2016, Nanoco announced a modification in its license agreement with The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) for its cadmium-free quantum-dot technology. Dow now has "non-exclusive rights for the sale, marketing and manufacture of Nanoco's quantum dot technology for use in display applications." Nanoco is now free to pursue other routes to market for its materials, but the development will also result in the company's receiving a lower royalty rate from Dow on its cadmium-free quantum-dot sales.
  • In May 2016, Nanosys announced that it is to partner with Hitachi Chemical to develop its proprietary QDEF optical films for display applications. Hitachi plans to ship high volumes of product to clients in the display industry in the second half of 2016.
  • In May 2016, AOC—a major player in the monitor industry—announced that its new monitors are now on the market in the United States. The monitors—which incorporate QD Vision's Color IQ technology—were available in China from April 2016.

Implications

The common thread running through each of these three developments is the need of the quantum-dot firm to link with major players that possess high-volume production capacity and experience in product development. This expertise in design and engineering is essential for the integration of novel nanomaterials into technologies that have well-established fabrication processes and markets. For example, despite receiving over $100 million in financing from venture-capital firms since its formation in 2004, QD Vision still requires the input of display manufacturers such as AOC in order to integrate its products into commercial displays.

The changing relationship between Nanoco and Dow is of particular interest. Nanoco is pursuing a strategy that will enable it to develop new partnerships and diversify its portfolio. This strategy will also, according to Nanoco, "give the Company greater control over the commercialization of its intellectual property in the display industry." The firm is clearly comfortable that the potential revenue in nonexisting partnerships is sufficient to outweigh the short-term losses that are likely to result from the renegotiation of its deal with Dow. The desire to regain increased control over the commercialization of its technology also demonstrates Nanoco's belief that this platform is likely to form the foundation of the display industry in the coming years.

Impacts/Disruptions

It is necessary to consider developments in quantum-dot-based liquid-crystal-display technology against the backdrop of the market for organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) displays. Quantum-dot technology, by affording similar quality at longer life spans and lower costs, is undoubtedly retarding the emergence of OLED displays for large-form-factor applications such as televisions. However, the likely advent of flexible electronic applications in the medium term could potentially have a highly disruptive effect on the display market. OLED technology provides a far better match for flexible applications and could reap the benefits of a shift in consumer preferences.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Display, portable electronic device

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Battery Developments

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Lithium-ion is by far the foremost battery technology for electronic devices. Recent advances suggest that nanomaterials could help to prolong this dominant market position.

Description

In April 2016, venture-capital firm H2 Ventures and specialist-asset-manager Investec named Nano-Nouvelle as one of the top 50 start-up technology firms in Australia and New Zealand in their 2016 Tech Pioneers Report. The materials technology firm specializes in the development of 3D nanoporous-conductive membranes for energy-storage applications. By applying sequential coatings to commercially available porous polymer substrates, Nano-Nouvelle fabricates membranes with a customizable surface area (between 0.5 and 5 m2/cm3) using high-volume and low-cost processes. The company claims that its patent-protected membranes can augment the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries by up to 50%. Nano-Nouvelle is aiming to make the path to commercialization as smooth as possible by collaborating with major global battery manufacturers, ensuring that its technology is compatible with these companies' existing fabrication processes and cell design.

Implications

Nano-Nouvelle claims that its technology would enable batteries to last longer and charge quicker than today's lithium-ion batteries. Boosting the energy-storage capacity of standard lithium-ion batteries by as much as 50% would undoubtedly have a profound effect on a range of industrial sectors. For example, an enhancement of capacity of this magnitude would improve users' experience of portable electronic devices, facilitate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, and enable home energy-storage schemes and could even reduce global power consumption. Such dramatic technology advances are few and far between in the battery industry, and whether Nano-Nouvelle's impressive results will transfer to a large-scale industrial setting remains unclear. Despite the promising nature of Nano-Nouvelle's initial results, competition in the battery industry is fierce, and start-up companies find it exceedingly difficult to break into a market dominated by major global players. Consequently, whether Nano-Nouvelle's technology will, as the company suggests, lay the "foundation for a new generation of high capacity batteries" remains unclear.

Impacts/Disruptions

The automotive industry is driving much of the innovation in the energy-storage sector. For example, Tesla claims that its Gigafactory—which became operational in 2016—is the world's largest building (by footprint) and is due to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries in a year than the entire world produced in 2013. Other car manufacturers do not plan to cede the market for electric vehicles to Tesla without a fight. Reports in May 2016 suggest that Volkswagen is considering investing approximately £8 billion (approximately $10.5 billion) in its own battery factory.

Players in the battery industry are clearly investing heavily in infrastructure for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. These firms will attempt to extract as much profit as possible from this technology before any alternatives see use. This effort, coupled with a lack of any obvious emerging alternatives, points to a period of sustained growth within the lithium-ion-battery industry, with continued incremental improvements in both performance and price for the foreseeable future.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Energy storage, automotive, portable electronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: