Cambridge University, with the help of Herman Hauser's Amadeus Capital Partners venture capital company, has formed a spin-off called Plastic Logic to commercialise research into plastic semiconductors.
Hauser, who founded Acorn Computers before becoming a venture capitalist in the 1990s, serves as chairman of Plastic Logic. He says it will build on work by Richard Friend and fellow Cambridge University and Cavendish Laboratory researcher Henning Sirringhaus.
Semiconductor companies around the world, including Philips Electronics and Intel, are pursuing plastic electronics research. Plastic semiconductors have already been demonstrated in single-transistor and IC forms.
The attraction is not performance, as electron mobility is in-ferior to silicon semiconductors. But where performance is not critical, systems could benefit from lower-cost production of electronics. One idea is of packaged goods that communicate with point-of-sale terminals without being taken out of the shopping trolley.
Typically, plastic transistors are defined at 100 times larger geometry than silicon semiconductors - 25 to 50µm minimum geometries - with digital circuits that operate at frequencies of hundreds of kilohertz.
Plastic Logic has received about $2.5m to work on applications such as active-matrix drives for mobile phone displays and larger displays. Discussions with potential partners are underway.
Hauser says the company's value to the market will be a combination of choosing the right plastic materials and inventing an industrially viable manufacturing process. Plastic chips could be printed on to rolls of film that could then be applied to clothing, curved surfaces such as bottles and large displays.
Hauser said: "Obviously for gigahertz processors, plastics are not the right material. But for RF tagging, for active-matrix driving of LCDs and light-emitting polymer screens, plastics could be superior solutions. They are eminently worthy of study for the very low-cost aspect of plastics.
"The business model we are looking at is a licensing model, although it may be necessary to get a pilot fabrication facility built."
Hauser indicated that Plastic Logic could come to market within a few years rather than decades.
Peter Clarke is European correspondent at EETimes, our US sister publication.