The giant Solvay Group, based in Brussels, is making a major bet on the plastics electronics business. Most recently, Solvay North America Investments led a $20.6 million financing round in which it bought a minority interest in Plextronics, a Pittsburgh-based company that has new conductive plastics technology. Plextronics envisions 15 billion printed electronic devices by 2015, using new technology developed by a Carnegie-Mellon professor that is capable of commercial scale performance. That’s where Solvay may become particularly interesting. Right now, Plextronics has no polymer manufacturing capability. Solvay has plenty, particularly in very high performance plastics. It’s too early to say now if Solvay may help in actual polymer production.
Solvay has already placed two other bets on printing technologies for electronic devices. Solvay Solexis has an R&D agreement with Thin Film Electronics ASA of Oslo, Norway and research collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics.
One of the goals is to produce flexible solar cells that could significantly reduce the cost to produce power from solar cells. Another potential market is printed Organic Light Emitting Diodes displays that could challenge plasma technology and liquid crystal displays. Another possible application is RFID tags.