OLED heavyweight looks towards Germany
Interview with Dr. Tobias Grab, cynora GmbH
Dr. Tobias Grab studied chemistry at Bonn University in Germany. After earning his doctor's degree at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), as co-inventor of the company's core patents, in 2008, he took over the management of cynora GmbH, which had been established in 2003. He then aligned the company to new OLED technologies and has already steered it through a second round of financing.
1. cynora was originally a spin-off from RWTH Aachen University. How and why did you end up on the campus of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT?
That's an interesting observation. My business partner, Dr. Thomas Baumann, and I both earned our doctor's degrees at the KIT and, during this time, we were able to develop a broad network at the KIT itself and also in the region. Of course, we wanted to take advantage of this to ensure the successful development of cynora. Since the KIT, with its "high-tech incubator" for start-ups, offered the ideal environment, cynora moved from Herzogenrath to the KIT campus, where it has been able to grow strongly since 2008. For example, through our network at the KIT we were invited to present our company at the Falling Walls conference in Berlin and were also fortunate to be named Falling Walls Science Startup of 2013. Events such as this underline the importance of having a solid network such as the KIT Business Club.
2. In the cyFLEX project you are collaborating with the Light Technology Institute (LTI) of the KIT. What is the objective of this project?
The aim of this project is to develop flexible OLED components that will be produced by a printing process. Since these components are to be used also, for example, in battery-operated applications, the efficient materials from cynora offer a good starting point for OLEDs that can be produced economically and quickly.
The InnovationLab (iL) in Heidelberg is also involved in the project; this is a cooperative network in the field of printed organic electronics that aims to promote the development of commercial products. The combination of regional competences creates a good basis that should ensure the success of the project.
3. Recently you received the Science Start-Up of the Year 2013 award at the Falling Walls conference. Has the award attracted more attention to your company?
It certainly has. In Berlin, I was able to establish very many interesting contacts. Some of these people previously had little knowledge of OLED technology but were curious about our concept. The conference was held at a weekend and when I returned to my office on Monday there were so many inquiries about our technology that our PR team spent many days propagating cynora's vision. In any case, the award was an important highlight of 2013 for our company.
4. Samsung's takeover of your competitor Novaled should make the next rounds of financing easier? How difficult is it for a start-up high-tech company to get capital?
This takeover certainly showed that Germany is an excellent location for technological development - with the regional clusters for organic electronics in Saxony and here in the southwest. Naturally, this is also a positive sign for investors, since a "heavyweight" in the OLED field has shown that it is focusing on the developments here.
5. Apart from the management team and the market, investors are naturally also interested in the underlying technology. Could you briefly describe the special features of your production process?
Our technology offers several benefits that I would be pleased to describe for you. We address the missing component for durable, deep blue colorants, which are especially relevant for TV applications, since you replace these devices relatively seldom. As opposed to the current state-of-the-art colorants, with the same degree of efficiency, our materials are not dependent on iridium, the rarest element on the planet. This is a great advantage for mass applications in displays, lighting, and smart packaging. And last but not least, our materials can be printed, which means they can be processed relatively inexpensively and in a manner that conserves materials.
To put it in a nutshell: We make all colors efficient and printable and want to make the often-mentioned visions of the OLED producers reality.
6. Some OLEDs are already used in smartphone displays and, very occasionally, in OLED TVs? Why are they not more widespread?
The OLED components that are currently available are very good products with excellent picture quality and energy efficiency, as can be seen in many smartphones. At the same time, with the long development times and the high price of large OLED TVs, you see that there are still several obstacles to be overcome before OLEDs can be used in all types of display. I already mentioned the problem with the blue colorant. With the singlet harvesting emission principle, our materials show potential that could resolve this problem.
On the other hand, we are developing colorants for other colors that work efficiently without being based on extremely rare starting materials such as iridium, which has been used to date. This point is relevant, as widespread sales of OLED TVs are naturally associated with high material requirements.
Besides, vacuum coating is still used to manufacture components, which wastes a lot of material and is difficult to scale up. This is why we adapt our material sets for liquid processing, which conserves material and is also suitable for large-scale coatings.
Based on the number of people who are interested in our technology, we are confident that further developments will be made in the field of OLEDs and that they will become a mass product also in applications other than displays.
7. What optoelectronic solutions do you see for OLEDs in the future?
In addition to the display applications we have already discussed, OLEDs will also be used in everyday lighting. Since OLEDs can also be transparent and flexible, special applications will emerge, such as luminous labels that could provide information about product properties or marketing applications, like cans with luminous logos, which we presented as an outlook in 2012.
Probably, in the future many creative brains will consider many other OLED applications that will take advantage of the great potential of this technology.