Opinion

ITO Replacement Market Will Grow to $4 Billion by 2020

ITO Replacement Market Will Grow to $4 Billion by 2020

An industry analyst is optimistic about the market for new types of transparent conductors.

by Jennifer Colegrove

ITO (indium tin oxide) is currently the dominant transparent conductor in the marketplace.  However, due to ITO’s high cost, long processing requirements, and fragility, non-ITO-type transparent conductors are gaining momentum.  These transparent conductors may not only replace ITO, but also provide functions that ITO cannot.  Transparent conductor applications include touch sensors, displays, lighting, thin-film solar (PV), smart windows, and EMI shielding.  Touch Display Research forecasts that the non-ITO transparent-conductor market will grow from $206 million in 2013 to $4 billion by 2020 (Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1:  The non-ITO transparent conductor market will grow steadily through at least 2020. Source: Touch Display Research, ITO-Replacement – Non-ITO Transparent Conductor Technologies, Supply Chain, and Market Forecast Report, May 2013.

 

Approximately, 10 types of ITO-replacement transparent conductors can be put into six categories:  metal mesh, silver nanowire, carbon nanotube (CNT), conductive polymer, graphene, and other technologies.  At the current time (2013), there are more than 180 companies and research institutes developing non-ITO transparent conductors or related technologies (Fig. 2).

 

Fig. 2:  Out of six categories of non-ITO transparent conductors under development (top rows in blue), graphene leads the pack, with more than 40 companies working on the material.  CNT represents carbon nanotube.  Source: Touch Display Research, ITO-Replacement — Non-ITO Transparent Conductor Technologies, Supply Chain, and Market Forecast Report, May 2013.

 

Graphene is the most researched non-ITO material, with 41 companies and research institutes developing it.  Carbon nanotube and metal mesh are number two and three, respectively.  Twenty-nine companies supply non-ITO transparent conductive film, and twenty-one companies supply the nano ink or powder.

There are many features to consider when developing or using a transparent conductive material, including sheet resistance, conductivity, cost, visual appearance, durability, and flexibility. Figure 3 compares cost and conductivity for the six major categories discussed above.

 

Fig. 3:  Potential ITO replacements are compared in a cost vs. conductivity grid.  Source: Touch Display Research, ITO-Replacement—Non-ITO Transparent Conductor Technologies, Supply Chain, and Market Forecast Report, May 2013

 

Several companies are already producing these advanced transparent conductor materials.  Atmel has been mass producing its metal-mesh touch sensor, XSense, for several months.  Fujifilm is currently expanding its EXCLEAR silver halide film capacity.  UniPixel is starting the mass production of its metal-mesh UniBoss.  Cambrios is leading the silver-nanowire transparent-conductor market.  And conductive polymer has been used on displays for years.  It will be interesting to see which non-ITO materials take the lead over the next 7 years and how much of the ITO market they will consume. •

 


Jennifer Colegrove, Ph.D., is president and analyst of Touch Display Research, Inc.  She can be reached at jc@touchdisplayresearch.com