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Dow gives boost to display technology

The company's Advanced Electronic Materials will increase the supply of a key material that is used in next-generation displays, boosting prospects for the emerging technology.

Dow Chemical will increase the supply of a key material that is used in next-generation displays, such as flat-panel screens, potentially improving the outlook for the emerging technology.

Dow's Advanced Electronic Materials division announced Tuesday that it is expanding a facility in Midland, Mich., to increase production of polymers used in organic light-emitting diode displays (OLED).

Although analysts don't expect OLED technology to challenge traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in the flat-panel monitor market for at least 10 years, the increased supply of light-emitting polymers from the Dow Chemical facility should help to increase the spread of the new technology.

"The larger facility may help in the long run, because one of the keys in developing a technology and industry from scratch like OLED is that you have to have standardized materials and manufacturing equipment," said Kimberly Allen, analyst with research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources. "Getting a big player like Dow is just another step in developing a support structure for the industry."

A Dow Chemical representative was not immediately available for comment.

Allen added that OLED displays are promising because they don't require a backlight--meaning screens can be made thinner and lighter, as well as potentially consume less power than LCDs. One of the main obstacles for OLED technology, however, are the low yields, or usable displays, that are being produced by manufacturing plants. Standardized materials should help improve yields by making manufacturing more efficient.

So far, OLED displays are being used only in small devices, such as cell phones, but panel manufacturers expect the technology will soon be used more widely in notebook PCs, flat-panel monitors and televisions. Dow said in a release that it expects the facility to help meet worldwide demand for light-emitting polymers for the next decade.

Dow Chemical has been promoting polymer-based OLED technology, which differs from the more common small molecule-based OLED technology in the way the light-emitting particles are distributed on a substrate. In the polymer method, particles are basically sprayed in liquid form onto a substrate, or support base, whereas with the small molecule approach, particles are evaporated and allowed to settle onto the substrate.

Eastman Kodak is one of the key proponents of small molecule-based OLED technology.

Supporters of polymer OLED suggest that polymer requires less expensive equipment than small molecule and is also less time-consuming to manufacture.