Home Cyberpsychology & Technology IDTechEx Discusses Segmenting the Conductive Inks Market by Formulation and Application

IDTechEx Discusses Segmenting the Conductive Inks Market by Formulation and Application

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The conductive inks market will grow to exceed US$6.5 billion by 2034 but remains a highly segmented industry, underpinning both photovoltaics and the emerging field of printed electronics. Taking stock of the different outlooks for the myriad of conductive ink types and the various application areas is a complex task. IDTechEx has tackled this problem by assessing the market for different conductive ink types across 15 application areas and providing granular ten-year market forecasts.

IDTechEx has covered the printed electronics and conductive inks market for over ten years, independently assessing technological and commercial progress within the industry. IDTechEx has published a new report, Conductive Inks Market 2024-2034: Technologies, Applications, Players, which includes granular 10-year market forecasts, is based on profiles of 30+ key players, and leverages extensive in-depth coverage of many end-use markets for conductive inks.

Conductive inks are a platform technology that facilitate a very broad range of applications, spanning from the established (photovoltaics) to the emerging (smart packaging). As printed/flexible/hybrid electronics gain traction, opportunities will be created for differentiated conductive inks to meet the needs of emerging applications such as in-mold electronics and wearable technologies. There are many different types of conductive ink, each spanning a different range of parameters, including conductivity, printing yield, and curing time. In this article, IDTechEx gives an overview of some considerations taken when assessing ink technologies and key application areas.

Ink technology

The conductive ink technologies in IDTechEx’s report are segmented into the major categories used to market the inks while minimizing duplication where possible. Flake-based silver is today’s dominant conductive ink material, estimated to comprise around 97% of the market by weight. It is primarily produced in substantial volumes by large companies such as Henkel, DuPont, and Sun Chemical. Therefore, while it is arguably not an ‘emerging technology’ itself, the emergence of high-volume applications for printed/flexible electronics, such as smart packaging or electronic skin patches, is expected to drive an increase in sales. Nanoparticle-based inks are generally produced by smaller suppliers, with the key selling point being higher conductivity. However, substantial displacement of conventional flake-based inks for most applications is yet to be seen. Particle-free conductive inks are produced by a range of early-stage companies and offer distinct benefits for electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding and printed antennas.

Moving beyond silver, copper inks have long been desirable due to the far lower raw material price, and after years of unsuccessfully battling the challenges of oxidation during sintering, they are finally gaining some commercial traction. Carbon-based inks fall into two categories: those based on low-cost commoditized carbon (typically carbon black) and those based on more expensive conductive/semi-conducting nanocarbons such as graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Stretchable and/or thermoformable conductive inks can be produced using multiple formulations, with flake-based inks with an elastomeric binder the most common. This class of conductive inks is likely to grow rapidly with the adoption of wearable electronics/e-textiles and in-mold electronics (IME). Moving further down the list of ink types also includes silver nanowires and conductive polymers – both suited to particular applications.

Key applications

Conductive inks are arguably the premier platform technology for printed/flexible electronics, utilised in all types of devices and components. As such, these materials have a large and diverse application space, ranging from photovoltaic panels to electronic skin patches and from transparent antennas to pressure sensors. IDTechEx aims to bring structure to this complex application space by segmenting the market into three distinct categories. Circuit manufacturing accounts for conductive inks being used to connect components, with the required properties determined by the manufacturing methodology rather than the device’s functionality. Conductive inks may also be used to enable a specific type of sensing, which determines the required properties. Furthermore, conductive inks are used to provide non-sensing functionality beyond simply connecting components.

The current status of the conductive ink market is dominated by the use of silver flake-based ink as a charge collector in photovoltaics. However, an increase in efficiency and transition to the next iteration of solar cell technology will lead to an extremely modest growth in demand for silver flake-based ink in photovoltaics over the coming decade. Indeed, the vast majority of the growth in demand for this dominant ink type will come from emerging opportunities in applications such as 3D electronics, printed heaters, RFID, and smart packaging.

The largest growth opportunity for conductive inks will be in non-silver inks, with market revenue forecast to grow with a CAGR of 24% by IDTechEx. Stretchable/thermoformable inks and copper inks will seize the largest share of this expanding market, driven by applications such as in-mold electronics and wearable electronics. As for silver flake-based inks, RFID and smart packaging is also set to be a key application area when assessing growth over the next ten years.




Dr Conor O’Brien is a senior technology analyst at IDTechEx.

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