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Sunday
Sep132009

HAS A STARTUP CRACKED THE OLED PROBLEM?

Everyone loves OLEDs, but no one knows how to make big ones. Kateeva says it can help.

by Michael Kanellos

Liquid to solid to gas and back to solid.

If startup Kateeva is correct, a more elaborate version of that recipe might transform organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) from a niche market into a mainstream technology for TVs, computer screens and lights.

The company has devised  a method for depositing the light-emitting organic materials with inkjet printers and a micro-dryer called a T Jet (for thermal jet) along with proprietary inks that effectively will let manufacturers employ Gen 8.5 and larger substrates – which measure more than 6 feet a side – to produce OLEDs.

OLEDs are currently made on Gen 3.5 substrates, which measure 61 centimeters by 72 centimeters, hardly big enough for that 50-inch screen.

In four years or more, OLED TVs made on Kateeva's formulas could cost about 70 percent of what it would cost to build a standard LCD TV and even less than an LCD-LED TV, asserted Conor Madigan, a co-founder and the CEO. Such TVs would use a fraction of the power and contain half of the components.

"By 2013, OLEDs will really be established at a volume manufacturing level. They [TV manufacturers] see a market where small margins rule and higher costs lose," he said. "The technology scales gracefully."

Like algae biodiesel, carbon nanotubes and electric cars, OLEDs are miracle items that more people read about than actually own. OLEDs are thin, flexible sheets of materials that emit their own light. Researchers at USC and Princeton have published reports stating that OLEDs can conceivably convert nearly 100 percent of the power injected into them into light.

In the end, that could mean TVs or lights a few millimeters thick that weigh a fraction of their contemporaries, cost less and don't sport bulbs that generate heat and break. OLED TVs and lights could even be transparent, so homeowners could replace windows with them.

Nokia, Dell, General Electric, Sylvania and others have all pledge to adopt them. Proponents say it could be a $100 billion market in a few years with$4.5 billion coming from lighting alone.

But, oops, reality. Producing OLEDs remains expensive and problematic. Sony released the first OLED TV, the XEL-1, in 2007. It measured 11-inches in diameter and sold for $2,500. Two years later, the XEL-1 still measures 11-inches across and sells for $2,500. Panasonic, Sharp, Hitachi and others have said they want to produce OLED TVs, but in the hazy future when manufacturing issues can be resolved. LG will release an OLED TV soon, but it measures only 15 inches.

"It will be a while. All of the same issues that have existed for the last couple of years-stability of manufacturing, scaling to large size-still exist," said David Steel, senior vice president of marketing at Samsung Electronics.  

Sylvania sells an OLED lamp, for $10,000. The only mass market for OLEDs right now is for screens for high-end phones.  

The dilemma arises largely from how OLEDs are manufactured. A substrate inside of a vacuum deposition chamber is covered with an intricately patterned mask. Chemical gases injected into the chamber coat the exposed portions of the substrate and, when they solidify, become circuits. After several mask layers, the light emitting pixels come into being.

Unfortunately, the mask can only get so big. The further away a mask feature is from the source of the gas, the odds increase that the pixel will contain defects. The z dimension, or thickness, of the mask can also distort.

To this end, some companies have tried lasers and inkjet printing. While inkjets allow the source of materials to be placed in close proximity to mask features, inkjets can be inaccurate for electronics printing and one layer can bleed into the next.

"Each layer has to be insoluble to the next," Madigan said.

Kateeva gets around this problem with the T Jet, which sits between the inkjet nozzles and the substrate. The material is first heated to 100 Celsius to evaporate the carrier liquids. The remaining solids then get heated to 300 Celsius, turned into a gas, and deposited onto the substrate, where it solidifies.

In a sense, it's similar to conventional OLED manufacturing, but the material is deposited in closer proximity. Larger substrates mean cheaper (and larger) TVs and other products because more displays essentially get manufactured at the same time.

Although the company will sell equipment, approximately 70 percent of its revenue could come from the inks, according to Sass Somekh, a former chip equipment exec turned VC at Musea Ventures. (Somekh co-founded Kateeva and invested in it along with Sigma Partners and Varian.) Each customer will likely demand its own nuanced tweak on the materials, but that's how the TV industry works today: Most manufacturers buy their liquid crystal from Merck. Some of the company's employees hail from Applied Materials and other equipment vendors.

The first big test will come in the second quarter when Kateeva ships prototype systems for processing Gen 3.5 substrates. Bigger ones will follow.

Thursday
Aug272009

STARTUP WATCH: FUEL SUGAR FROM DESIGNER ENERGY

by Michael Kanellos

Designer Energy is focused on one thing: degradation.

Of cellulosic material, that is. The company, which grew out of university labs in Israel, has come up with biological mechanisms to break down cellulosic plant matter and convert it into sugar. The sugar will then get sold to fuel companies.

"Sugar is the new oil," said Tali Somekh, a partner at Musea Ventures, which invested in the company. "The bottleneck of the ethanol industry is the production of sugar."

The company reflects the growing horizontal-ization of the greentech market. Until now, companies have largely been forced to, or chosen to do, everything themselves. Many solar cell manufacturers also make their own panels. Electric car makers sometimes produce their own batteries or other components. Biofuel makers don't concentrate on fuel or distribution: They also often have to raise their own crops. In essence, these companies have to be farmers, biologists, chemists and petroleum distributors at the same time. Not easy.

That will begin to change as companies get forced to specialize. Algae iconoclast Solazyme (which grows algae by feeding it sugar) has said it will buy sugar in the open market rather than raise it itself. Somekh isn't saying a lot now, but more about the company could come out in the future. The firm works with a number of scientists in Israel and in the U.S. It also put money into solar thermal maker HelioFocus.

Microbes, Somekh added, are great sugar producers, in part, because they don't have legs. To defend themselves, animals can run. To get food, predators can kill things. Plants and microbes by contrast secrete really obnoxious chemicals. One of the classics is Trichoderma, the soil microbe from the Philippines that can eat through the canvas in tents.

Thursday
Aug272009

A MIGHTY HOT WIND FOR SOLAR.

by Michael Kanellos

It's like a jet engine powered by the sun.

HelioFocus, which grew out of research at Israel's Weizmann Institute, has created an unusual solar thermal device that it claims that will take up far less real estate than the parabolic dishes and heliostats already being deployed to convert heat into electricity.

The details, though, take a little getting used to. The final version will be a six-story high parabolic dish that will concentrate the sun's energy onto an optical receiver at its center. The proprietary receiver in turn converts the light into a stream of hot air that can reach 1,000 degrees Celsius. The hot air then gets funneled through a gas turbine rejiggered for solar power.

"We take a gas generator and solarize it," said Sass Somekh, one of the founders and a partner at Musea Ventures. Musea and Israel Green Corp invested $20 million in the company in 2008.

An early prototype, which has operated for about a year, has generated air streams hitting 850 degrees Celsius, or about twice the temperature of the surface of Mercury at high noon (425 to 450 degrees Celsius.).

Ideally, a 50-megawatt power plant made with these would take up about half of the real estate of a traditional parabolic trough system. Like with heliostats, acres of land would not have to be graded flat because the towers would be independent and modular.

The closest analogy in the thermal world is to Stirling engine solar systems. In Stirling systems, heat from the sun drives a piston in the center of the parabolic dish. The HelioFocus device gets its power from a Brayton cycle engine: a constant stream of compressed gas is the source of power. George Brayton filed a patent for his Ready Engine in 1872. The Brayton cycle became the basis of gas turbines and jet engines.

One of HelioFocus' towers, though, can connect directly to a more conventional turbine because the temperature of the air stream is far higher, he said. Currently, the company retrofits micro turbines from Capstone for that job.

"The cost of the dish is higher [than the dish in Stirling systems], but we hope the cost of electricity is the same," he said.

The efficiency of the two is arguably comparable. HelioFocus says it will have efficiencies of over 20 percent. Stirling Energy Systems' 25 kilowatt SunCatcher dishes exhibit a 25 percent efficiency on average and once hit 31 percent, a record for solar.

HelioFocus will also sell the dishes to hybrid power plants, which get electricity from gas and solar power. It's one turbine after all. Various utilities have already mapped out hybrid solar thermal plants in Israel, Florida, and North Africa. And, like Ausra and eSolar, HelioFocus will sell its equipment to hospitals, mines, food producers and others that need large amounts of steam.

Friday
Sep192008

MUSEA'S FIRST EXIT.

Musea’s first exit became official on July 23rd as Illumina, the biotech instrumentation giant, snapped up Avantome.  

http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/1775391/ 

“Illumina said it will make a $25 million cash payment and contingent payments up to $35 million for the company. Avantome's principal founders, Mostafa Ronaghi and Helmy Eltoukhy, will join Illumina's management.”

Musea would like to congratulate Mostafa and Helmy on a job well done!

Wednesday
Mar052008

OUR MISSION.

For roughly the past year, Sass has been traveling the world talking about the mission of Musea Ventures. The presentation describes the challenges the world faces as we struggle with our dependencies on fossil fuels, an addiction that causes geo-political unrest as well as rapidly exhausts our atmosphere.

Please feel free to download the file let us know what you think!