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Minister announces £8.4m investment in plastic electronics technologies

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A range of specialist plastic electronics businesses are to benefit from a total of £8.4m investment in research and development into new technology that will lead to the creation of a range of new products such as conformable and rollable electronic displays, ultra-efficient lighting and low-cost, long-life solar cells.

The investment was announced today by the universities and science minister, David Willetts, during a speech to the Tomorrow's Giants conference in London. Thirteen projects, involving more than 30 industrial and academic partners, will benefit from the funding allocated as a result of two competitions run by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board.

Minister for universities and science David Willetts said: "It is early days for this emerging field, but plastic electronics will give rise to a range of new exciting products, such as ultra-efficient lighting and cheaper, longer-lasting solar cells. Looking ahead, this technology offers enormous potential to help our local environment, improve our everyday standard of living and support the nation's economy.

"The global market for plastic electronics is now worth almost $2bn (£1.337bn) and is forecasted to grow to as much as $120bn (£80.19bn) by 2020. The funding I've announced today is important in supporting UK businesses to be world leaders in one of the key industries of the future. Commercially exploiting the outputs of the UK's world-leading science and research base has a vital role to play in helping our economy to grow."

£7.4m has been offered to eight projects to help build the supply chain and to overcome the barriers to UK exploitation of plastic electronics technology, including over £800,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). A further £1m has been offered by the Technology Strategy Board to five projects to encourage UK businesses to use plastic electronics in their product development by producing demonstrators with potential for real commercial value.

The projects range from interactive labels for high value brand authentication to interactive audio posters and will enable businesses to overcome some of the barriers that they face in taking new and innovative products to market.

Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board said: "The UK is among the world's leading players in Plastic Electronics, and the opportunities to be a major part of a whole new manufacturing sector are very real. The benefits are potentially huge – for the UK economy, our society and the environment. And the sector is predicted to grow at an astonishing rate over the next two decades.

"Very sophisticated plastic electronics technology already exists but we believe that there are huge opportunities out there for much broader incorporation of the technology into products. The challenge is to entice companies, especially those from the design sector, to work with the technology."

Plastic electronics allows circuits to be produced at relatively low cost by printing electronic materials onto a range of rigid or flexible surfaces. It is very different from the assembly of conventional silicon-based electronics and will lead to the creation of a whole new range of products.

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