January 27, 2006 One of the more interesting companies we’ve encountered in the last 12 months has been Konarka. For starters, Konarka was founded by the winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for chemistry, Dr. Alan Heeger, who has since become the company’s chief scientist. We first wrote about Konarka’s light-activated plastic power supply for the battlefield, but in more recent times we’ve seen the company announce a joint development program with Textronics to create prototype garments and fashion accessories with portable, wearable power generation capabilities and more recently comes the news that the Konarka’s Power Plastic materials are being developed to extend and enhance packaging and display applications. Imagine a can or bottle with dynamic content, boxes that light up or containers that serve as power sources for their contents.
Today’s techno-savvy consumers are carrying more and more mobile communication, computing and entertainment devices, such as phones, digital music players, cameras and PDAs. Each of these devices relies on batteries, but their functionality is limited by the available power and the inconvenience of recharging or replacing batteries. By combining Konarka’s Power Plastic and Textronics’ electronic textile systems into wearable electronics, the companies will overcome the shortcomings of conventional power technologies by enabling consumers to have energy generation ability with them at all times.
According to Konarka’s Daniel Patrick McGahn, the company’s commercialisation strategy centres on partnering around product applications to extend and enhance the functionality of those products. The demonstration products Konarka is developing with Textronics are an implementation of those plans.
“Our expertise with electronic textile materials, components and systems is a natural complement to Konarka’s Power Plastic development,” said Textronics Chief Executive Officer Stacey Burr. “Textronics’ technologies will allow for the end product to have a soft textile-like feel while Konarka’s materials will provide the renewable power.”
The resulting systems will be flexible and integrated in a way that will retain many of the qualities of conventional textiles, providing an overall consumer experience that is more like wearing a jacket or carrying a messenger bag than charging a device. Konarka’s added abilities to provide coloured and patterned Power Plastic technology will allow for innovative aesthetic solutions.
“This joint effort will show designer-label manufacturers how we can bring new benefits to consumers through their everyday clothing and fashion accessories, including increased levels of convenience, freedom of use and performance while minimally affecting the garments’ overall weight, size or appearance,” said McGahn.
On the powered packaging side of things, McGahn says, “Organizations are interested in utilizing our Power Plastic materials to extend and enhance their packaging and display applications.
"Imagine a can or bottle with dynamic content, boxes that light up or containers that serve as power sources for their contents. These are the types of features that our partners will be able to provide as they integrate our material into their applications."
Advances in nanotechnology and materials science have led to Konarka's development of new photovoltaics made from conducting plastics and nano-engineered materials that promise to make solar inexpensive, unobtrusive and readily available. These plastic cells, Power Plastic(, are produced by coating or printing the materials onto a surface in a continuous roll-to-roll process similar to photographic film. The end result is a light-activated power plastic that is flexible, lightweight, lower in cost and more versatile in application than traditional silicon-based solar panels.
According to Nanomarkets, printable electronics is expected to generate revenues of US$7 billion by 2010, with printed RFID making up US$2.2 billion of that and US$3 billion coming from low cost flexible displays for use instore and on packaging. Additionally, Pira International predicts a 9.7% year on year growth from now through 2008 in the U.S. alone, with batteries and displays have the potential to reach US$182m in the next two years just in packaging applications.