Organic Electronics – More Light and Energy from Wafer-thin Molecular Layers

(f.l.t.r) Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Karl Leo, Dr. rer. nat. Martin Pfeiffer, Dr. rer. nat. Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Karl Leo (Spokesperson)
Dr. rer. nat. Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth*
Dr. rer. nat. Martin Pfeiffer**

Technische Universität / Fraunhofer-Institut IPMS, Dresden
*Novaled AG, Dresden
**Heliatek GmbH, Dresden

Many technologies of the future are based on crystalline semiconductors: materials like silicon that require sophisticated and expensive production processes. Are there alternative materials that can make light-emitting diodes and solar cells more affordable and more flexible?

Prof. Karl Leo, Dr. Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth, and Dr. Martin Pfeiffer have the right materials on hand: organic semiconductors. The scientists in Dresden have succeeded in making plastics fit for use in a variety of products. They laid the foundation for innovative applications in lighting and photovoltaics which until recently were inconceivable. Karl Leo is head of the Institute for Applied Photophysics at TU Dresden and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS). Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth is SCO of Novaled AG, Martin Pfeiffer is CTO at Heliatek GmbH.

The nominated scientists and their teams studied certain organic substances that have a relatively simple chemical structure. They can be used to produce transistors, light-emitting diodes or solar cells with unusual features: as thin, flexible and transparent films of almost any size. In addition, the scientists have installed the first roll-to-roll manufacturing plant in Dresden for the simple, fast and affordable production of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

One of the drawbacks of plastic electronic systems in the past was their modest efficiency: a lot of energy was simply lost unused. The useful life was also not sufficient for commercial applications. The brightness of OLEDs gradually diminished more and more as the material degraded. The Dresden scientists soon found the cause – and were able to slow the process of degradation. And they created custom materials and structures that considerably improved the efficiency of organic lamps and light gatherers. They designed OLEDs that have a greater luminous efficiency than fluorescent lamps. And they developed such efficient organic solar cells that they are a good alternative to silicon cells in certain applications. The realistic vision of the scientists are large-area lamps, for example, that can be applied as a wafer-thin second skin to walls, ceilings, furniture or even as a transparent film on windows. Transparent, thin solar cells could be integrated in cars or bags in the future and produce electricity from sunlight for air-conditioning units or an MPE player.

The potential of the plastic electronic devices is tremendous. Experts estimate that turnover will be around US$ 330 million worldwide over the next 15 years. The scientists from Dresden have been instrumental in promoting the technology – and have the best chances of profiting from its application. To this end, six companies have spun off from IPMS and TU Dresden – including Heliatek and Novaled. They are part of a comprehensive network situated around Dresden and dedicated to the further development of organic semiconductors.

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