Cambrios displays a great deal of potential
One of Harris and Harris Group’s current investments is in nanotech startup Cambrios. Cambrios was founded in 2002 by one of the world’s leading materials research scientists, Angela Belcher. Their patent portfolio includes 22 issued patents and 175 pending patent applications. The company is focused on developing transparent conducting materials using silver nanowires. Their product is marketed as ClearOhm.
How is transparent conducting material used? Well if you look at the touch screen on your smart phone, something conductive tells the phone where your finger is placed on the screen and the corresponding movements, yet you can’t see this conductive material because it’s transparent. The most commonly used transparent conductive material is called Indium Tin Oxide (ITO). Below is the 2012 market value of the transparent conductor market by material type accordng to IDTechEx:
While ITO is the dominant solution, there are three main problems with it:
- It’s very expensive to purchase due to price fixing and potantial shortages. An article in the New Scientist claimed that we are likely to fully exhaust this material by 2020. China is the main producer of ITO in many mines and it is specualted that China is hoarding the metal so there is political risk. Prices have also have been very volatile and have increased sharply over time..
- The process of applying this metal to subtrates (vacuum deposition) is very expensive
- The finished product is brittle so it has difficulty handling flexible substrates such as e-paper
There are six replacement candidates for ITO as follows:
- Metal Mesh
- Silver Nanowires
- Carbon Nanotubes
- Conductive Polymers
- ITO Inks
Enter Cambrios with their ClearOhm product available in film and ink. The product has been in development since 2005 with focus on decreasing haze, improving reliability, and scaling to high volume production. The product when compared to ITO is superior as seen below:
Cambrios was actually the first company to ship an ITO-replacement in a consumer electronics product. Below are just some of the commercially available products that are currently using ClearOhm:
However Cambrios is not the only company looking to exploit the ITO replacement opportunity. The below table shows just how many companies are researching various types of ITO replacement technologies:
Cambrios does seem to have a first mover advantage given the commercial usage of ClearOhm and the relationships they have been developing with many leading manufacturers. In an upcoming post we will look at a promising energy startup that was spun out of Cambrios which uses Angela Belcher’s silver nanowire technology.
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