With flat TVs technology in fierce competition between LCD and PDP, researchers and CE manufacturers are also looking to horizon technologies, trying to perfect the commercialization of a new type of flat-panel display that will rely on diamonds or carbon nanotubes (two forms of pure carbon) to produce images. Theoretically, these “field effect displays,” or FEDs, will consume less energy than plasma or LCD-TVs, deliver a better picture, and even cost less.
“The concept of a nanotube TV will give you image quality similar to CRTs (cathode ray tubes), and the best image quality is still found on CRT-TVs,” said Tom Pitstick, vice president of marketing at Carbon Nanotechnologies. “All the major display manufacturers are looking at nanotube TVs.” Electronics giant Samsung has already produced a prototype of a TV-size display made with CNI’s nanotubes. Televisions based on the new screens will nudge onto shelves in late 2006, he added.
So far, some of the biggest proponents of this approach could be Canon and Toshiba. The two manufacturers have formed a joint venture to make surface-conduction electron-emission display (SED) panels, and Toshiba will produce large-screen SED televisions in 2006. Although Canon and Toshiba’s description of SEDs is very similar to that of FEDs, the two companies are using a different particle than carbon, industry analysts said (for more details on SED technology, see Projection Monthly 02-2005 issue, p., 104.)
Small-diameter carbon nanotubes are an example of a nanotechnology that is now reaching the commercial arena. These nanostructures comprise large molecules of carbon, cylindrical in form, about 1-3 nanometers in diameter, and hundreds to thousands of nanometers long. As individual molecules, single-wall carbon nanotubes have a tensile strength that is 100 times that of high-strength steel at about one-sixth the density of steel. They conduct electricity and heat extremely well, and many believe that they represent the next revolution in polymer technology.
One unique property of single-wall and double-wall carbon nanotubes is their ability to self-assemble into ropes. Similar to other polymeric materials, these ropes can have crystalline, semi-crystalline and amorphous regions. The ability to control these rope structures is an attribute that customers are recognizing as important for their applications. The ability to tailor diameters and create mixed morphologies substantially broadens the property envelope of small-diameter carbon nanotubes, which can be viewed as nested single-wall nanotubes.
But that goal is still a pipe dream for many. Candescent, for example, once touted as America’s re-entry into the display industry, burned through $600M in funding before abandoning plans to produce FEDs made with materials other than carbon in 2001. It sold its assets to Canon in August 2004, two months after filing for voluntary reorganization under Chapter 11.
Despite the challenging situation, there remains some enthusiasm for CNT-based displays. As a result Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc. (CNI) (Houston, TX) (www.cnanotech.com), began supplying single-wall carbon nanotubes on a developmental basis in 2000 when the company was formed and has expanded that capability in subsequent years. The company produces a wide array of small-diameter carbon nanotube products and recently announced it can now provide double-wall carbon nanotubes in gram to multiple kilogram quantities.
The technology to produce double-wall carbon nanotubes is part of the intellectual property developed by Dr. Richard Smalley and licensed exclusively to CNI by Rice University in 2001. Smalley is a Rice University professor and chairmen of CNI. “Even though single-wall carbon nanotubes have become somewhat of a gold standard product, the properties of double-wall carbon nanotubes can make them very interesting for certain applications,” Smalley said.
CNI has over 100 patents and patent applications issued or in various stages of prosecution. About 1200 patent claims have issued thus far, and the pending patents include an additional about 4000 claims. This patent portfolio includes about 650 composition of matter claims, more than 40 of which have been issued or allowed to date.
In yet another example of university and corporate collaboration, NanoFED, a subsidiary of Advance Nanotech (London, UK; New York, NY) (www.advancenanotech.com), has launched a $2M collaborative project with the University of Bristol to develop a new emissive display technology based on diamond dust. The company hopes to have working prototypes in 18 months to two years.
The Bristol group comprises lead scientist Dr. Neil Fox, Professor Mike Ashfold in the School of Chemistry and Professor David Cherns, Head of the Microstructures group in the Department of Physics. The University has also received a $300K award under the Royal Society Wolfson Laboratory Refurbishment Grants Scheme, to enable refurbishment of the laboratory to create a clean, modern and well-equipped laboratory environment available to NanoFED.
“Previous Research Council and DTI support for our doped nanodiamond work allowed us to reach a position where the technology is now ripe for exploitation,” explained Professor Ashfold. “Given the University of Bristol’s expertise in small scale structures and in materials formulation, we are ideally positioned to push forward the barriers in this area of nanotechnology.”
Advance Nanotech, Inc. commercializes innovative nanotechnology. Operating in three areas, electronics, biopharma and materials, the company leverages relationships with financial and development resources to enable product-focused fast-track commercialization of nanotechnology. Its objective is to invest in patented innovation to bridge early stage product development with valuable markets and has formed relationship with many Universities worldwide.
To fund it commercialization efforts, Advance Nanotech recently closed on $20M in financing of common stock for the further development of its portfolio of eighteen nanotechnology subsidiaries, licensing of additional opportunities and working capital.