Speedbump for OLEDs

Organic LEDs — OLEDs — hold the promise for inexpensive, thin, low-power displays that are emissive and fast, so you get an image like a CRT with no viewing angle or response limitations. The technical hurdles are not small, however. Blue-emitting materials don’t last as long as red or green, so displays shift toward yellow shades as they age. And the panel must be tightly sealed so that no oxygen or water vapor gets inside.

The hurdles have proven too big for some companies. Kodak holds much of the intellectual property for “small molecule” technology, and had created a joint venture with Sanyo Electric to develop commercial products. Last week, Kodak is giving back its share in the venture, and Sanyo is going to shut it down. Kodak will instead pursue licensing deals with other companies to develop the technology. Pioneer also recently announced that it is ending its joint venture to make OLED panels. Other companies that were very visible in OLED research — such as Dupont — have been notably quiet recently.

Others continue to make progress. Universal Display Corporation was recently awarded a patent for technology for using inkjet print techniques with small molecule OLEDs, and has announced a blue OLED material with a 100,000 hour lifetime, which is roughly 7 times better than the company’s previous best. And Cambridge Display announced last year that they had produced 14″ color large-molecule OLED panels using inkjet technology.

It appears that enough companies still believe that there’s a commercial future for OLEDs, in spite of a few other dropping out of the race. It looks as though the finish line may be further off in the future than originally anticipated, so I’d expect to see some others give up before the first panels show up for sale.