Korean device manufacturer LG, which makes everything from smartphones to washers and dryers, has unveiled a prototype solar-powered e-reader.
The unit is 10 cm wide and 10 cm long, weighting in at about 20 grams. It was designed to fit the e-reader display panels LG now makes.
LG’s thin-film solar cell technology uses electrodes applied in a thin film onto glass or plastic instead of silicon wafers.
This would be second-generation solar cell technology. Solar cell tech can be roughly divided into three generations, all of which are under research simultaneously.
First-generation cells consist of large-area devices which involve high energy and labor input. Second-generation, or thin-film cell, technology was developed for energy efficiency and cost management. Third-generation technologies aim to enhance the poor electrical performance of second-generation technologies while keeping production costs very low.
Since the related technology is similar to TFT-LCD, the entry barrier is relatively low for LCD manufacturers such as LG Display, the company said. TFT-LCDs are made from a thin film of silicon deposited on a glass panel. LG is one of the major manufacturers of TFT-LCD, or thin film transistor liquid crystal display, screens. These are used in television sets, monitors, PCs and mobile products.
“Solar cells on glass are a cool idea,” Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group and an electrical engineer, told TechNewsWorld. “Getting away from using silicon as the base means these solar cells could be used in more places. The entire LCD industry today exists because manufacturers decided to etch transistors onto glass.”
LG will showcase its solar-powered e-reader prototype and its latest display technologies at the International Meeting on Information Display 2009, being held in Seoul, Korea, through Friday.
The company did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Here Comes the Sun
Power requirements for e-book readers are very low, and that could make solar power a good fit for an e-reader.”Most e-readers today use the E-ink technology for their displays, and that technology is very low in power consumption,” Yankee Group’s Howe said. “Solar cells could actually provide much of the power needed to keep an e-reader going.”
Will LG be able to take on established e-reader manufacturers like Amazon and Sony? Competition in this market is fierce, and LG’s role has been restricted to only providing displays.
“LG already makes everything from washing machines to mobile phones, and e-readers would just be another device in their electronics lines,” Howe said. “Their experience in building very low-power mobile phones would be a definite plus.”
Green Is In
By getting into solar-powered e-readers, LG would be tapping into two hot markets: The green energy sector and electronic books.
Competition in the e-reader market is fierce, with Fujitsu unveiling its color screen FLEPia in March; Sony offering two new devices earlier this month and planning to launch a third in December; Amazon launching an international version of its Kindle 2 and cutting prices on the regular Kindle 2; and Barnes & Noble planning to offer under its own brand an e-reader from Plastic Logic.
LG sees the money in the market. “E-books are attracting a lot of attention because they offer the advantage of storing thousands of books’ worth of contents in an easy-to-carry device,” said Ki Yong Kim, head of LG Display’s Solar Cell Office.
LG Display also plans to nurture its thin-film solar cell business as a future growth driver. The energy conversion efficiency rate of its thin-film solar cell is 9.6 percent. LG plans to increase this to 14 percent in 2012 to commercialize the technology.
Solar-powered e-readers could ultimately catch on. “I think they have the potential to be as popular as solar-powered calculators,” Yankee Group’s Howe said. “Your device is more useful to you when you don’t have to always keep recharging it.”