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Display company powers up prospects

Cambridge Display Technology will use a U.K. government grant to brighten the prospects for solar cells as well as flat-panel monitors.

Cambridge Display Technology will use a grant to brighten the prospects for solar cells as well as flat-panel monitors.

CDT announced Wednesday that it has been awarded a grant from the U.K. government's Department of Trade and Industry for plastic solar cell research and development.

The grant will help the privately held company develop efficient and commercially viable solar cells, using its organic light emitting diode, or OLED, screen technology.

CDT has been one of the main proponents behind 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, or base. In the polymer method, particles are sprayed in liquid form onto a support base, whereas with the small molecule method, particles are evaporated and allowed to settle onto the substrate.

Company representatives would not disclose the amount of the grant.

"The grant is not enough to do the entire commercialization of solar cells using LED," said Stewart Hough, CDT's vice president of business development. "It's mainly just research seed money, but it comes at the most critical time for any emerging technology--the early stages."

The most significant implication in the use of CDT's technology is lowering the cost of solar cells. The cost of materials and the manufacturing of current solar cells can be up to four times more expensive than the solar cells that CDT is aiming to create. The goal for CDT is to make the cells less expensive, boosting the commercial availability of solar cells.

Lowering the cost of manufacturing is the goal for the Cambridge, England-based company, which was founded in 1992 and employs about 130 workers. CDT's main business is not manufacturing displays, although it has the capacity to do so on a small scale; the company licenses its technology to manufacturers such as Philips, Seiko Epson and DuPont.

The polymers consist of materials that emit light so OLED displays don't require a backlight, allowing them to be thinner and lighter than liquid crystal displays (LCD) and potentially less power consuming. Additionally, polymers can be applied to a flexible substrate such as plastic, which expands the number of uses for these types of screens.

While analysts believe that OLED technology will be a challenger to LCD for the screen market, it will likely be about 10 years before it is widely available in large sizes for use in notebooks and flat panel monitors. However, the technology is picking up steam, already being used in some cell phone models.

Dow Chemical announced Tuesday that it is expanding a facility that produces polymers for use in OLED displays, giving makers better access to one of the key materials used in the displays.