The excitement is fading for conductive polymers, but the long-term potential is still there.
On Jan. 17, one of the pioneers—a Pittsburgh-based company called Plextronics—filed for bankruptcy protection. The company has an active, but apparently too small, business
for its conductive inks in OLED devices, but the market for conductive polymers in photovoltaic and other devices has not developed.
There are a plethora of issues, including cost, poor efficiencies, and processability issues. The concept of printing plastic solar cells has gotten plenty of hype in recent years, but the fact is that while their efficiencies have improved they are still far short of what silicon cells can achieve. And the market for silicon cells has been flooded with cheap product from China.
The other major promising player in the United States, Konarka Technologies (Lowell, MA), went into bankruptcy last year.
The potential of OLEDs in televisions may yet bail out Plextronics, which was a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University. Solvay, the giant Belgian chemical firm, would like to buy out the financial interest in Plextronics it doesn’t already own. A bankruptcy court will decide the outcome.
The ability to manufacture PV cells roll-to-roll is still one of the alluring aspects of conductive polymers. But the promise has dimmed along with other clean tech hopes.