Acreo AB Plays Leading Role in Combining Printing, Organic Electronics

Research institutes are playing an extremely important role in the development of printed electronics (PE). Many of the advances that have been developed in PE have come out of collaborations between industry and researchers.

Acreo AB
has been among the leaders in the PE field. Owned by Swedish ICT Research AB, Acreo AB is an independent non-profit research institute, with 145 employees working in the areas of nanoelectronics, printed electronics, fiber optics and broadband technology.

In the Printed Electronics Arena (PEA), Acreo is primarily focusing on packaging and printed matter, health care such as biosensors, and the Internet of Things.

Dr. Göran Gustafsson, CTO of Printed Electronics at Acreo AB, noted that the research institute came into being 12 years ago, playing a major role in combining paper and organic electronics.

“Acreo is a research institute within electronics and optics that was formed 1999 by the merge of two other institutes – Industrial Microelectronics Center and The Institute for Optical Research in Sweden,” Dr. Gustafsson said. “The interest in printed electronics started about that time with the Paella project initiated by Dr. Magnus Berggren who was hired as a project leader at Acreo. The Paella project gathered a number of paper and packaging industries in Sweden and northern Europe with the aim of exploring new exciting product opportunities that can be created when combining paper with organic electronic materials. The Paella project was very successful and a number of concepts were created, many of which now is the foundation of Acreo’s printed electronics technology.”

Dr. Gustafsson said that Acreo has focused on a unique approach to printed electronics compared to most other organizations in the field.

“Instead of aiming at creating new manufacturing tools that can make very complex electronic devices out of organic materials, Acreo has developed devices and materials that are compatible with existing printing equipment, even though it sometimes means that the performance not is as good as top of the art,” Dr. Gustafsson said. “This approach was a result of the close interaction with the paper and packaging companies, who required the technology to be easily transferable to their production lines. Another approach is to work with electrochemically-based devices which has many advantages over for example field effect devices, one being a drive voltage around 1.5 V which makes the technology easy to integrate.”

Acreo’s competence spans from novel materials to integrated systems and manufacturing. It has established a platform of printed electronics components consisting of displays, transistors, diodes, and energy sources, which can be integrated into products. On the manufacturing side, Acreo develops prototypes and has small scale production of components and integrated systems in its printing facility, which is located in Norrköping Science Park. Acreo provides state-of-the-art equipment and resources across the printing spectrum, including inkjet, flexo, screen, gravure and a dry process for patterning laminates like Al on PET.

“This dry process, called DPP, can be used for making antennas, interconnects, electrodes, and heaters in a fast, cost effective and environmentally friendly way,” Dr. Gustafsson noted. “Furthermore, Acreo has long term experience in the development of PE inks, in particular printable dry electrolytes, which is the basis for the electrochemical device portfolio.

By providing expertise and equipment, Acreo can give companies the opportunity to test out their new ideas.

“We provide existing companies and start-ups with a unique competence and a facility that considerably lowers their threshold to enter into the PE business,” Dr. Gustafsson added. “In PEA manufacturing, they can test new concepts, process steps and full manufacturing processes and also do small series processing.”

As a result, Acreo has developed an impressive array of innovations for the printed electronics field.

“Acreo developed the world’s first real Paper Displays, i.e. displays that have exactly the same properties as paper and where the display layer is only a few extra layers of ink,” Dr. Gustafsson said. “Acreo also developed a set of electronics made with the same materials as the displays, and which easily can be integrated with the displays. Acreo has also developed the world’s first electro-chromic passive matrix addressed displays. This was done in collaboration with Lintec Corporation. Acreo has also developed a high frequency diode for energy harvesting together with De La Rue. All this technology is compatible with paper substrates and plastic, and standard printing equipment.”

Dr. Gustafsson said he has high hopes that printed electronics will become a commercially successful technology. “I think it will finally reach the market and really take off,” Dr. Gustafsson said.