Cambridge spin-off to study plastic semiconductors
LONDON A spin-off of Cambridge University with venture backing from Amadeus Capital Partners will seek to commercialize Cambridge research into plastic semiconductor materials.
Plastic Logic (Cambridge, England) will build on work by Richard Friend and Henning Sirringhaus of Cambridge University and Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, said Herman Hauser, chairman of Plastic Logic and a founder of Acorn Computers in the 1990s before starting Amadeus Capital Partners.
Other semiconductor companies around the world, including Royal Philips Electronics and Intel Corp., are pursuing or investing in plastic electronics research, and plastic semiconductors have already been demonstrated in single transistor and integrated circuit forms.
The attraction is not performance, because electron mobility in plastic is inferior to silicon semiconductor material. But plastic technology holds the promise that systems that don't require critical performance could benefit from the lower-cost production of electronics printed on to packaging or incorporated within plastic casings. Such technology could make it possible for packaged goods to communicate with point-of-sale terminals without being removed from a shopping cart.
Plastic transistors are typically defined in geometries one hundred times larger than silicon semiconductors, or at minimum in the 25-to-50-micron range. They can be operated at clock frequencies of hundreds of kilohertz.
Amadeus said that Plastic Logic has received about $2.5 million to work on its technology for such applications as active-matrix drives for mobile phone displays and larger displays. Discussions with potential partners are already under way, the venture firm said. Other Plastic Logic investors include Cambridge Research and Innovation Ltd., Dow Ventures and Seiko Epson.
Plastic Logic is a successor of sorts to Cambridge Display Technology Ltd., formed 10 years ago to commercialize light-emitting plastic based on research conducted by Friend.
"Sirringhaus has worked out commercial printing technologies that will be discussed in a forthcoming Science paper," Hauser said.
Plastic Logic's value will be based on a combination of choosing the right plastic materials and inventing a viable manufacturing process, Hauser said. Instead of hard chips, as at present, plastic chips could be printed on to rolls of film that could then be applied to clothing, to curved surfaces such as bottles, and to large displays, he said.
In developing its process, which is protected by a number of patents, Plastic Logic said it has overcome problems related to the impermeability and surface roughness of plastic displays. Its process will lead to the development of an active matrix display produced on thin plastic substrates, the company said.
"Obviously for gigahertz processors, plastics are not the right material," said Hauser. "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," said Hauser, indicating that Plastic Logic could have products ready for market within a few years.
Stuart Evans, who has held executive positions with IBM and McKinsey, has been recruited as chief executive officer.