Printed electronics: the winner is the chemical industry

Dr Peter Harrop
Printed electronics: the winner is the chemical industry
The chemical industry will end up with most of the added value from printed electronics, one of the fastest growing technologies in the world. Worth over $50 billion to the materials and chemicals industry in 2024, the resultant devices and processes are of vital interest to industries as diverse as consumer goods, healthcare, aerospace, electronics, media and transit - a breadth that reduces business risk, particularly if common formulations can be identified.
The term "printed electronics" embraces electrics as well as devices that employ thin films likely to be printed or coated with customised fine chemicals in future. It is allowing electronics to be used in places it has never been before because it is variously transparent, stretchable, biodegradable or on and in paper for instance. It is improving existing electronics and electrics. The world's largest event on the subject, attended by more buyers than any other, is taking place in Santa Clara November 20-21 with many satellite events and parallel conference sessions on related topics such as graphene and supercapacitors and with Masterclasses on the day before and the day after. The international tradeshow, with more than 150 exhibitors and about 1800 delegates, will cover all the technologies throughout the entire supply chain across all major component types. See
The event is owned and hosted by IDTechEx, the leading analyst in these topics, with over 20 up-to-date reports and a remarkable Market Intelligence Portal ( that includes rating of research programs. One new IDTechEx report is specifically designed to address the needs of chemical and materials companies and researchers called, "Functional Materials for Future Electronics: Metals, Inorganic & Organic Compounds, Graphene, CNT" ( It addresses the need for chemical and material companies entering the new electrical and electronic product space, including printed electronics, to identify the most profitable and widely useful functional compounds and elements needed including allotropes of carbon. Morphologies, form factors, derivatives, reasons, trends and niche opportunities are examined so suppliers can de-risk their investment.
Thirty-seven disruptive new device families important to the chemical industry are analysed, from forms of flexible photovoltaics to fuel cells, artificial muscle, memristors, metamaterials, new forms of lithium battery and nano- electromechanical systems NEMS. The report determines the most important elements and compounds needed for them and the electrical functions that they perform, plus future trends and commonalities between formulations. Several of the world's largest chemical companies asked for this.
For example, the widest future use of fine inorganic and organic compounds and carbon allotropes in the new electrics and electronics is, in order of breadth of application:
1: Copper
2: Aluminium
3: Silver
4: Polyethylenes
6: Graphene
7: Indium compounds, Titanium compounds and Fluoropolymers
8: Silicon compounds
9: Zinc compounds, Polythiophenes
On the other hand, those materials that are most versatile in electronic and electrical functions and therefore potentially providing widespread, high added value are identified as titanium compounds, zinc compounds and fluoropolymers. Thirdly IDTechEx identifies those that will be sold in the largest gross value over the next ten years, a category that includes those that are lithium and gallium compounds. The report profiles 113 global organizations involved in carbon allotropes for the new electronics and electrics. While manufacturers in North America seem to focus more on SWCNTs; Asia and Europe, with Japan on top, are leading the production of MWCNTs with Showa Denko, Mitsui and Hodogaya Chemical being the largest companies.
The new electronics and electrics spans nano- to very large devices. For example, one of the key enabling technologies - printed electronics - gives us viable electronic billboard sheets and huge areas of unrolled photovoltaics, soon in stretchable and conformal form. There are new device principles and chemistries. Whether it is totally new forms of flat screen displays or re-invented lithium-ion batteries with completely different anode, cathode and electrolyte compounds, those at the start of the value chain tend to make higher margins than those making the devices themselves.
Of course it is arbitrary whether some devices are really new because some are very old inventions in new forms or they have been in the wilderness for decades but are now ready for prime time. Others are experiments that may fail technically or in the marketplace. Others could choose a somewhat different choice of "new" device families but IDTechEx believes that they would reach much the same conclusions concerning the league table of substances required.
IDTechEx finds that the metals that will be most widely used over the coming decade are aluminium, copper and silver, notably for conductive patterning in interconnects, electrodes, antennas and actuators. The inorganic elemental semiconductor most in demand in the new electronics will be silicon. Mainly, it takes new forms such as ink. The many functions of the fine chemicals in the new electronics and electrics are annotated in the report including adhesive, active electrode, active substrate, binder, barrier layer, electroactive material or dielectric elastomer, electrochemical membrane, electrolyte, electret, ferroelectric memory, insulator, dielectric or gate, laser action, light emitter, memristor effect material, pigment, passive substrate, piezoelectric, quantum dot, sensor, semiconductor, transparent conductor.
Of the opportunities for inorganic compounds, IDTechEx discovers that lithium salts for lithium-ion batteries are particularly complex, changing in formulation and morphology and growing in large demand. IDTechEx therefore give a further analysis of this opportunity. In the report, there is comparison of 138 lithium-based rechargeable battery manufacturers and the 15 key compounds and elements they use and develop, with cathode and anode chemistry, electrolyte morphology, cell format and form of materials used.
For more information "Functional Materials for Future Electronics: Metals, Inorganic & Organic Compounds, Graphene, CNT"
World's largest event
Printed Electronics USA, the world's largest event on the topic and attended by more buyers than any other, is taking place in Santa Clara, CA, on November 20-21. It is co-located with many satellite events and parallel conference sessions on related topics such as graphene, OLEDs and supercapacitors. The international tradeshow, with more than 150 exhibitors, will cover all the technologies throughout the entire supply chain across all major component types. Learn more about IDTechEx's event here: External Link
About IDTechEx
IDTechEx guides your strategic business decisions through its Research and Events services, helping you profit from emerging technologies. We provide independent research, business intelligence and advice to companies across the value chain based on our core research activities and methodologies providing data sought by business leaders, strategists and emerging technology scouts to aid their business decisions. To discuss your needs please contact us on or see External Link.
IDTechEx Research Subscriptions and Market Intelligence Portal
Subscription services allow you to access a wide range of our technology and market research on a given topic or across topics, providing you with unlimited access to new related content throughout the subscription period at tremendous value.
One subscription option available is the Market Intelligence Portal. This provides you with timely business-critical market intelligence on emerging technologies, continually supporting you in assessing opportunity and making business decisions. Subscribers have access to two market research reports, regular webinars, weekly analytical articles, 3-5 weekly impartial company profiles, our raw forecast data, one hour of analyst time and company presentations gathered at our conferences.
To discover which subscription package is most suitable for you please see or to discuss your specific needs please email