Transparent conductive zinc oxide for touchscreens and solar panels

New material for touchscreens have the same properties, but are 150 times cheaper

Thursday 09 Oct 14

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Dennis Valbjørn Christensen
Researcher
DTU Energy
+4520 96 19 46
Two PhD students from DTU Energy Conversion, Li Han and Dennis Valbjørn Christensen, may be able to substitute the widely used but expensive indium tin oxide (ITO) in touchscreens and solar panels with a new kind of materials having the same excellent properties, just 150 times cheaper. They are now in the EU finals of CleanLaunchpad, Europe’s greatest cleantech business idea competition.

Everything is suddenly happening really fast for PhD Li Han at DTU Energy Conversion.

Just a week ago Li Han defended his PhD-thesis “High Temperature Thermoelectric Properties of ZnO Based Materials” at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the ink on his postdoctoral contract isn’t dry yet and last Monday he won the Danish part of CleanLaunchpad, a major EU cleantech business idea competition, with PhD student Dennis Valbjørn Christensen.

"The more I heard about what makes good ideas into businesses, the more I honed in on using Li Han’s materials for solar panels and touchscreens."
PhD-student Dennis Valbjørn Christensen on the proces from idea to business model

The idea of using the Zinc Oxide (ZnO) Based Materials for solar panels and touchscreens started out as a curious byproduct of Li Hans yearlong research, but then Li Han’s good friend Dennis Valbjørn Christensen, a PhD student with expert knowledge in thin films, took part in this year’s DTU Summer School on Entrepreneurship.

“I came to the summer school with several good ideas, but the more I heard about what makes good ideas into businesses, the more I honed in on using Li Han’s materials for solar panels and touchscreens”, explains Dennis Valbjørn Christensen, who won the 1st prize at the summer school with his business idea based on Li Han’s research.

Returning home to DTU Energy Conversion, he quickly talked Li Han into rethinking his project, and it turns out that the ZnO based materials may be able to substitute the expensive ITO in touch screens and solar panels. The new materials are 150 times cheaper and have the same properties.

Transparency and electrically conductivity are normally contradicting properties. For example, metals have good conductivity but no transparency, while glass is transparent but electrically insulating. However, the ZnO based materials discovered by Li Han have both properties, which is very much in demand by the multinational companies making solar cells or tablets and smartphones.

“I had the knowledge of the materials, while Dennis knew about thin films and helped improve it”, says Li Han.

Transforming research and good ideas into good and sound business models can be tough, so in September Li Han and Dennis Valbjørn Christensen took part in a joint Scandinavian workshop on Entrepreneurship in Gothenburg, Sweden, as preparation for CleanLaunchPad.

“It’s quite a challenge, because it’s all about making the right sales pitch to a non-science audience”, says Dennis Valbjørn Christensen. “You have all the expert technical knowhow, but pitching an idea to the jury is 90 percent business and only 10 percent science. It’s all about: Can we make this into a solid business!?”

The jury and the audience at the national CleanLaunchPad thought so, and two days ago Li Han and Dennis Valbjørn Christensen won the 1st prize in the Danish CleanLaunchPad-competition.

The two friends and colleagues are now ready for the EU finals in Valencia, Spain, in the end of October.