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Nanoco Finds Opportunities for Heavy Metal-Free Quantum Dots

By David Savastano, Editor | August 10, 2016

Manufacturing agreements with Dow, Merck help drive company’s growth.

Quantum dots (QD) are quickly gaining market share in the television market, with industry leaders such as Samsung and LG putting emphasis on the use of quantum dots for TVs, and millions of QD-enabled TVs being purchased by consumers.
 
Nanoco Technologies Ltd has been focused on quantum dot technologies since it was spun out of the University of Manchester in 2001, developing heavy metal-free QDs in 2004. Now, with major manufacturing agreements in place with both Dow and Merck and commercial relationships with the industry leaders in TVs, Nanoco is staking out a leadership position in the quantum dot field.
 
Nanoco CEO Michael Edelman said the company’s emphasis on developing scalable manufacturing processes and moving away from cadmium has helped to set it apart from many competitors.
 
“We quickly figured out how to manufacture at scale cost effectively, and in 2004, we realized that we needed to move away from manufacturing quantum dots using cadmium-based materials,” Edelman said. “We developed heavy metal-free materials, eliminating cadmium, and we have been very successful. The key here is being able to produce heavy metal-free materials. We have more than 460 patents and patent applications.
 
Samsung is the market leader, and all Samsung TVs are going to be cadmium-free,” Edelman added. “Cadmium-free TVs are outselling cadmium TVs 20 to 1, and cadmium is 10X more toxic than lead or mercury.”
 
Quantum dots offer numerous advantages, including the ability to mass produce TVs and lighting in the future.
 
“Quantum dots drastically enhance color, while providing 30% power savings,” said Edelman. “As a drop in solution, LCD display OEMs receive significant improvements at a marginal increase in manufacturing cost. Quantum dots can be blended into an ink solution and printed in pixel patterns, but that is further out. Printing technology is absolutely going to be adopted; for example, QD EL (electroluminescent lighting) will all be printed.”
 
Nanoco’s work paid off with an agreement with The Dow Chemical Company in January 2013, in which Dow began commercial production of Nanoco quantum dots in its plant in Cheonan, South Korea. Nanoco receives royalty payments from Dow sales.
 
“Our relationship with Dow is strong,” said Edelman. “We have a long-term contract. We work closely together, and we are very excited by what they are doing.”
 
In the last two months, Nanoco has signed two significant licensing agreements. In July 2016, Nanoco and Wah Hong Industrial Corporation, Taiwan, signed a seven-year supply and license agreement in the display sector. Nanoco will supply its cadmium-free quantum dot resin, which Wah Hong will process for its optical films and sheets for displays.
 
“Display makers in East Asia are increasingly aware of the hazards of cadmium and we believe that this cadmium-free product will be an important driver of growth to complement our existing product range,” said C.P. Yeh, Wah Hong Industrial Corporation’s president.
 
In August 2016, Nanoco signed a worldwide material supply and licensing agreement with German-headquartered Merck KGaA that allows Merck to manufacture, market and sell heavy metal-free quantum dots based on Nanoco CFQD technology.  Ahead of Merck’s own facility coming on line, they will begin sales effort with materials produced by Nanoco at its Runcorn, UK production facility. Nanoco will receive a license fee and royalties on Merck’s sales of the Nanoco CFQD quantum dots.
 
Markets for Quantum Dots
 
TVs and displays aren’t the only markets for quantum dots. Quantum dots also have benefits for LED lighting, improving color performance. Nanoco has been working with Osram since 2011 to develop cadmium-free quantum dot-enabled LED lighting.
 
“Aside from displays, we are active in lighting and life sciences, where quantum dots can be used to detect breast cancer or lymph nodes,” Edelman noted. “This is a whole area that is incredibly interesting - early diagnosis of cancer. The early and near terms will be focused on displays, with niche lighting products such as horticultural lighting following.”
 
Still, TVs and displays are the most significant markets, and Edelman noted that the use of quantum dots in TVs has been growing rapidly.
 
“There is tremendous headway in TVs,” Edelman said. “Samsung has sold 1.25 million QD-enabled TVs, while LG only sold 400,000 OLED TVs last year. IHS says it expects that 18 million to 19 million QD-enabled TVs will be sold by 2018, which will require many thousands of kilos of quantum dots.
 
“Growth is huge - we could see the market growing from nothing to $5 billion by 2020,” Edelman added. “That’s why you are seeing companies like Dow and Merck becoming involved. Gone are the days we needed to convince people about the future of quantum dots. We are really excited about the future of our technology.”
 

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