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13 Sep 2011 04:09:22

Widening government support for printed electronics



Widening government support for printed electronics
By Dr Peter Harrop, chairman, IDTechEx

This year, the world's largest event on printed electronics, Printed Electronics USA will reflect the widening government support for printed electronics. Beyond the burgeoning programs at universities and government research centers, this is particularly evident in military and electric vehicle work. The US Army reflects this in two presentations. One is an overview of materials printing capabilities and prototype development for US Army applications and the other concerns direct write approaches to nanoscale electronics.

Nowhere is the increased government support more in evidence than with electric vehicles by land, water and air, however. Governments and industry have committed $60 billion to electric vehicle programs in the last two years. New initiatives keep being announced for both hybrid and pure electric vehicles since, for unmanned aircraft, underwater and indoor vehicles we are in the age of the pure electric vehicle but for on and off-road vehicles, seagoing craft and manned aircraft we are in the age of the hybrid electric vehicle.

For example, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced more than $175 million over the next three to five years to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced vehicle technologies. The funding will support 40 projects across 15 states and will help improve the fuel efficiency of next generation vehicles. The projects will target new innovations throughout the vehicle, including better fuels and lubricants, lighter weight materials, longer-lasting and cheaper electric vehicle batteries and components, more efficient engine technologies, and more. This comprehensive approach to vehicle efficiency research and development will help ensure the technologies are available to help automakers achieve recently announced fuel efficiency standards.

The President announced historic fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks which will bring fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by Model Year 2025 and which, combined with steps already taken by this administration, will save American families $1.7 trillion at the pump and reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels by 2025. The administration then announced first-of-their-kind fuel efficiency standards for work trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles, which will save American businesses who operate and own these commercial vehicles approximately $50 billion in fuel costs over the life of the program mainly through hybrid electric vehicles.

"The Department of Energy is investing in new advanced technologies that will significantly improve vehicle fuel economy, save consumers money, and create skilled jobs for Americans," said Secretary Chu. "Investments in the next generation of autos will strengthen our economy and lead to a more fuel-efficient, clean energy future."

The funds will leverage additional investments by the grantees to support projects totalling more than $300 million. The selections announced focus on eight approaches to improving vehicle efficiency, three of them heavily involving printed electronics, given that the term embraces electrics and thin film technologies progressing towards being printed. These three are:

Advanced cells and design technology for electric drive batteries: Twelve projects awarded to develop high energy or high power batteries for electric vehicles that should significantly exceed existing state-of-the-art technologies in terms of performance and/or cost. Traction batteries constitute up to 60% of the cost of an electric vehicle. Replacement of the battery when it fails may be uneconomic, causing the vehicle to be disposed of early – the opposite of a green initiative.

The second subject supported that involves printed electronics is advanced power electronics and electric motor technology: four projects awarded to develop the next generation of power inverters and electric motors to meet demanding performance targets while achieving significant cost reductions. The latest of the 15 current IDTechEx reports on electric vehicle markets, vehicle types and key technologies is, "Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles 2012–2022".

Thirdly, the support for thermoelectric and enabling engine technology is all about thin film technology. Here, three sub-projects awarded to improve the efficiency of thermoelectric devices to convert engine waste heat to electricity. Selections of projects to develop early-stage enabling engine technologies to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions are taking place this month.

The event Printed Electronics USA will this year see a presentation from the legendary Taiwanese government research laboratory ITRI on its printed electronics research and those electric vehicle aspects will be covered by many speakers. For example, IDTechEx presents on "Printing Electric Vehicles", this overview encompassing both the electronics and the electrics from lighting to vehicle management systems, energy harvesting and smart skin. Third generation traction battery leaders Planar Energy Devices and PolyPlus Battery Company will describe how printing and printing-like processes are increasingly used for batteries that are increasingly solid state, safely packing far more energy.

According to the IDTechEx report "Printed, Organic and Flexible Electronics Forecasts, Players and Opportunities 2011–2021", the printed electronics business is set to be over $55 billion in ten years and around $300 billion in twenty years as the familiar exponential kicks in. The early wins already include photovoltaics - the subject of fourteen presentations at the event - and a host of consumer novelties and packaging enhancements. Another early success has been value engineering conventional electronic products such as LCD flat screen television by replacing several complex layers with one printed layer.

Expect photovoltaics to be the single largest sector of printed electronics in 2021, with that including work on flexible and stretchable photovoltaics around and even under electric vehicles because it will be harvesting infrared not just visible light. Using three or four forms of printed energy harvesting in and on an electric vehicle, including smart textiles, will substantially increase their range, functionality and green credentials. Then there is the rapid move to solar charging stations for electric vehicles as analysed in the new IDTechEx report, "Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2011-2021".

Printed Electronics USA 2011, being held in Santa Clara, CA on November 30-December 1 will cover all of these topics and more. The event features two full days of conference sessions, a large trade show, unique, expert-led Masterclasses and company tours. In addition, you can visit "Demonstration Street", the one place in the world where you can see more types of printed electronics samples than any other, in addition to attendees receiving free samples of printed electronics.


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