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E-paper sales expected to hit $9.6 billion in '18

Sales of e-paper displays--primarily used in e-readers for now--are predicted to soar from 22 million units this year to 1.8 billion in 2018.

Electronic paper is stacking up to be a high-growth market, according to a new report.

Sales of e-paper displays are projected to soar from $431 million this year to $9.6 billion in 2018, market researcher DisplaySearch said Wednesday.

The number of units sold is forecast to grow 22 million this year to 1.8 billion in 2018.

E-books are currently the main use and sales driver for e-paper. Most e-book readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, use the electrophoretic display technology from E Ink. A few e-readers, such as Fujitsu's Flepia, use a different technology called cholesteric LCD. Fujitsu's device offers a color display but is more expensive than the Kindle or Sony Reader.

"E-paper displays are taking off with consumers due to their low power consumption and ease of reading, especially in sunlight," said Jennifer Colegrove, director of display technologies at DisplaySearch. "In addition, e-paper displays are 'green' because they reduce paper consumption."

The number of e-book readers on the market has risen steadily, starting with one model in 2003, three in 2006, five in 2007, and around 20 this year, notes the report.

Despite the visual appeal of Fujitu's color Flepia e-book reader, DisplaySearch asserts that the high price and technical challenges of color e-books will limit their sales volume until 2011. The more popular electrophoretic display technology is likely to continue to lead the market and generate sales of $5.8 billion in 2018.

But other display technologies are poised for growth, the report said. Electrochromic displays, most commonly used in windows and other glass products, will target the market for smart labels and card displays. By 2013, electrochromic displays will be the leading technology for e-paper displays, DisplaySearch is forecasting.

Another competing technology called MEMS (micro-electro mechanical system) is expected to shift its market from cell phone displays to color and medium-sized e-books over the next few years.