By 2026, flexible barrier manufacturing will be a market of more than US$875 million
A large opportunity lies in the development of devices in a flexible form factor that can operate without deterioration in performance, allowing them to be more robust, lightweight and versatile in their use. In order for flexible displays and photovoltaics to be commercially successful, they must be robust enough to survive for the necessary time and conditions required of the device. This condition has been a limitation of many flexible, organic or printable electronics. This highlights the fact that beyond flexibility, printability and functionality, one of the most important requirements is encapsulation as many of the materials used in printed or organic electronic displays are chemically sensitive, and will react with many environmental components such as oxygen and moisture.
These materials can be protected using substrates and barriers such as glass and metal, but this results in a rigid device and does not satisfy the applications demanding flexible devices. Plastic substrates and transparent flexible encapsulation barriers can be used, but these offer little protection to oxygen and water, resulting in the devices rapidly degrading.
In order to achieve device lifetimes of tens of thousands of hours, water vapor transmission rates (WVTR) must be 10-6 g/m2/day, and oxygen transmission rates (OTR) must be < 10-3 cm3/m2/day. For Organic Photovoltaics, the required WVTR is not as stringent as OLEDs require but is still very high at a level of 10-5 g/m2/day. These transmission rates are several orders of magnitude smaller than what is possible using any conventional plastic substrate, and they can also be several orders of magnitude smaller than what can be measured using common equipment designed for this purpose.
For these (and other) reasons, there has been intense interest in developing transparent barrier materials with much lower permeabilities, a market that will reach over $200 million by 2025.
This report from IDTechEx gives an in-depth review of the needs, emerging solutions and players. It addresses specific topics such as: Companies which are active in the development of high barrier films and their achievements on the field to date. The report covers a range of approaches in encapsulation, such as dyads, deposition of inorganic layers on plastic substrates and flexible glass. Surface smoothness and defects (such as cracks and pinholes) and the effect that these would have on the barrier behavior of the materials studied. Traditional methods of measurement of permeability are reaching the end of their abilities. The MOCON WVTR measurement device, which has been an industry standard, cannot give adequate measurements at the low levels of permeability required for technologies such as organic photovoltaics and OLEDs. Other methods of measurement and equipment developed are being discussed. Forecasts for displays, lighting and thin film photovoltaics (in terms of market value as well as area of barrier film sold into different verticals), in order to understand the influence that the development of flexible barriers would have at the mass deployment and adoption of these technologies.
For those developing flexible electronics, seeking materials needs and opportunities, this is a must-read report.