Transparent Success Heralds New Era for Displays
The development of a transparent conductive film based on a material and manufacturing process developed at HKU is attracting keen interest from leading firms that want to use it in the next generation of displays, among other products.
This new metal-mesh transparent conductor film (TCF) was developed by Dr Wen-Di Li in 2015, who then partnered with his colleague in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Tony Shien-Ping Feng, to apply TCF to dye-sensitised and perovskite solar cell technologies, which makes the solar cells more flexible and efficient.
They have set up a start-up, Flectrode Technologies Ltd, which was initially supported by TSSSU@HKU (Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities), and later received sizeable private investment, to market the flexible solar cell devices for use in consumer electronic products. In addition to solar cells, Flectrode actively explores a broad range of end products, among which the first target is the display market, where there have been promising results.
Flectrode’s new TCF has been found to be far more effective than the current TCFs used in displays, which are based on indium tin oxide (ITO). It is cheaper to produce and has 100 times better conductivity than existing technology, meaning it wastes less electricity in power transmission. This not only is of obvious advantage in solar cells but also improves displays by making touchscreens more responsive.
The new TCF also can improve the photovoltaic efficiency in solar cells, so more electricity is produced from light, including artificial light. Moreover, it is flexible whereas ITO is rigid, which makes it potentially applicable to a wider range of products.
Flectrode is currently doing prototypes for major display manufacturers in Mainland China and has been singled out as one of the major technology companies in Xiamen, where its factory is based. It plans to launch a pilot line this year.
"Every display supplier has been surprised by our product. The feedback we are getting is that our product is the best out there to replace ITO," Mr Kent Chung, Flectrode’s investor, said with full excitement.
Dr Li has also developed an innovative manufacturing process that enables large-scale production of metal-mesh TCFs at 2-3 times lower cost than conventional vacuum-based material deposition methods.
"Dr Feng and I have worked together because the TCF substrate itself has very limited value without including it in a product. Only in products can you have better commercial value and more impact," he said.
Apart from displays, smartphones are an obvious potential target for the invention. Dr Li already has a track record working with Huawei to develop large-scale manufacturing of a component he and his team designed to offer unique control over the illumination and collection of light using microstructures.