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No 20 | October 2017 |




rinted and organic electronics

are already used for a wide range

of applications and in a recent

report, IDTechEx [1] predicts the

market will grow from US$29.28bn

in 2017 to US$73.43bn in 2027.

In a smart building, technology allows

residents to live or work productively (e.g.

have good communications, efficient office

spacing, good lighting, physical security) at

the lowest cost and environmental impact

over the building’s lifecycle [2]. Buildings

have evolved from plain accommodation

to technologically advanced constructions

and hundreds of elements are considered

when building a modern house today.

Many of these elements can be made

using traditional, silicon-based electronics,

but many can be enhanced and special-

ised using printed or organic electronics,

especially where space is an issue.

One area of use for printed electronics is

within beacon systems, systems with small

devices (beacons) that constantly send out

radio signals containing small amounts of

data, to nearby smartphones and tablets.

The beacon could be made up from a

printed or organic photovoltaic cell that

harvests energy from light from inside the

room which powers Bluetooth circuit. These

types of sensors and Bluetooth emitters

can be used to direct someone entering

the building to the right apartment, office,

shop or in a carpark back to their car.

From office planning

to healthcare

Small, printed, flexible sensors could

also be built into chairs and seats to check

occupancy for efficient office planning,

and correct seating to help with healthy

posture. A small sensor in a sick or elderly

person’s bed could monitor movement,

body temperature, weight and occu-

pancy, giving important information to

caregivers and enabling the patient to

stay at home instead of in a hospital.

Lighting is also important in any build-

ing, and flexible organic light-emitting

diodes (OLEDs) have the potential to be inte-

grated into almost any compartment and

allow for ultra-thin, flexible or conformable,

lightweight sustainable lighting solutions

that can be made in any shape or size.

Printed and organic electronics can

also enable solutions for energy harvest-

ing, an arrangement of devices that can

scavenge, store and transmit energy sources

that would otherwise have simply been

lost. One example is organic photovoltaic

power systems that could be integrated

into buildings (3): building integrated

photovoltaic devices. These devices will

enable windows of the future to not only

generate their own solar power, contribut-

ing to the sustainability of buildings, but

also provide greater thermal control.

Large volumes, low costs

The promise of printed and organic

electronics in smart, sustainable buildings

lies within the ability to manufacture large

volumes to keep the cost of each device

down. When this is achieved these kinds

of electronics can be used everywhere in a

smart building. However, today many com-

panies and researchers working on innova-

tions in this field become stuck in “the valley

of death”; the point of no return from which

many new ideas going through the innova-

More than four

concrete walls and a roof

Dr Alex Cole, chief scientist – Aurora and strategic marketing analyst at the

Centre for Process Innovation, Sedgefield City, UK, discusses printed and organic

electronics in smart, sustainable buildings