Pangaea Blog

Pangaea invests in early stage cleantech companies with world-class advanced materials innovation.

Silicon has served us well over the last 55 years since the first integrated circuit was invented at Texas Instruments. Today, the symphony of chemistry, physics and engineering required to orchestrate the production of 22nm node chips in the latest Intel or TSMC fabs represents the pinnacle of 21st century technology. As great as Silicon may be as the driver of today's digital world, for many applications its properties make it a terrible semiconductor choice. For example, its electron bandgap is not compatible with light emission for LEDs, while its electrical and thermal properties make it an extremely inefficient choice for power electronics. Fortunately, the periodic table has come to the rescue with a vast array of compound semiconductors waiting to fill the gap.

Electronics are complicated products. When you stop to really think about it and itemize the components of your flat screen TV, tablet, and even LED light bulb, there is much more than circuitry, wiring, and glass contained inside. There is, in fact, a significant opportunity for materials innovation as manufacturers seek to provide products that are lighter, faster, and more energy efficient. My colleague Andrew has previously blogged about LED lighting innovation in relation to increasing energy efficiency, and here I will focus on transparent conductive electrodes (TCEs), which are used in touch panels, flat displays, photovoltaics, lighting, and more.

The average cost of a 30 second ad during last week’s Superbowl was about $4 million. So when a power outage delays the game for 34 minutes, it’s kind of a big deal. It looks bad for the Superdome, the local utility company (Entergy), the perhaps-not-yet-fully recovered city of New Orleans, the NFL, and for the US at large. CBS was caught off guard and some awkward pauses and transitions accompanied the bizarre turn of events. We can’t keep the lights on at an event averaging over 100 million viewers?

LED lighting has the potential to be one of the true blockbuster clean tech markets. A 2011 report by McKinsey & Company forecasts the global lighting market to reach €108BB($140BB) by 2020 with LEDs taking €64BB($83BB) of that share. This is a 10X increase from the LED lighting market size today. Technology is advancing as well; with Cree producing a record 254 lumen-per-watt device in 2012 - almost a 3X increase over the last decade. Exciting stuff for VCs indeed!!! At Pangaea Ventures we share in the excitement but worry that current thinking just won’t take us far enough.

Organic electronics, from OLED displays and lighting to third generation photovoltaic modules, is an enabling technology platform promising lighter, cheaper, and more flexible devices for a wide variety of industries and applications. The recent proliferation of organic-empowered devices like Samsung’s AMOLED displays in their Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets shows just how far we’ve come over the last few years. However, we still have yet to see the truly transformational devices on a large-scale inconceivable with their non-organic analogs (e.g. fully printed, flexible HDTVs).