The testing and characterization of organic electronic devices is becoming an increasingly important aspect of this growing sector, and the United Kingdom’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is gearing up to play a key role in developing equipment and techniques to meet the demand.
The NPL is focused on metrology for almost all aspects of industry and started a project three years ago focusing on organic electronics, as part of the National Measurement System project.
The remit of the project has now been extended and with a £ 1.5 million grant (about $2.5 million) NPL has gathered a multidisciplinary team of 15 researchers covering materials science, electronics and chemistry at its Teddington, England, base. According to project leader Craig Murphy (picture right), that team can also call on other expertise within NPL "to develop metrology techniques and support the development of organic electronics efforts of U.K. industry in collaboration with academia where relevant."
Quoting figures from IDTechEx (Cambridge, England), a leading market tracker of developments in printed and related electronics technologies, Murphy maintains the potential global market is expected to be worth £15 billion by 2015 (about $25 billion). He defines the sector involved as organic and printed organic electronics, excluding devices relying on conventional inorganic semiconductors.
Murphy said that organic electronics, also referred to sometimes as plastic electronics, is emerging fast because it can affect a number of markets that have not yet been fully exploited by semiconductors including: solar energy, smart packaging, medical diagnostics, displays and lighting. "Parts of the electronics industry are starting to move away from expensive silicon-based components in favor of cheaper, more flexible organic alternatives," said Murphy.
But he warned that there a numerous challenges to overcome, including the determination of the chemical, optical and electrical nature of organic nanostructures, the characterization and control of surface chemistry and surface energy for controlling patterning and printing, and the development of accurate bulk charge transport measurements and models.
"This is where we come in, since the sector needs the expertise of the metrological community. Our organic electronics team aims at understanding the fundamental science of organic electronics. "We analyze thin films of materials and conduct electrical measurements of devices, for example the characterization of diodes for LEDs."
Specifically, the team is focusing on areas such as photovoltaics. One group is working towards characterizing the nature of solar cell structures and examining their optoelectronic properties and printing deposition of organic materials. Another group is looking into how improvements in material patterning can be achieved through improvements in characterization and process control.