Ron Mertens: Future of Organic LED Technology (Interview)

Ron Mertens: Future of Organic LED Technology (Interview)

Ron Mertens wants the world to know about Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED).

Since 2004, software engineer Ron Mertens has operated, a website devoted to the awareness and advancement of Organic Light Emitting Diode technology. Used today mostly for next-generation displays, OLED is set to be the successor to traditional LED lighting in the next ten years.

Derived from sustainable organic material, OLEDs require far fewer resources to fabricate and offer near-limitless application potential - from residential and commercial lighting panels to “cloaking devices” that can make army tanks invisible

We sat down to ask Mertens, 38, how he became interested in the technology and what direction he sees OLED going in the next few decades.

What brought about the discovery of OLEDs?

Well, luminance in organic materials was discovered (in France) back in 1950 or so. In 1987, Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke developed the world's first working OLED at Eastman Kodak. Kodak pioneered OLEDs at the beginning, and it took them years to get the devices stable enough and efficient enough to be ready for commercialization.

Kodak later went on to sell their entire OLED portfolio to LG in 2010 for $100 million.

So, when did you become interested in OLED technology?

I first heard about OLEDs in 1998 or 1999. I heard about an idea to make tanks invisible using flexible OLEDs and I said “Wow, this is an interesting technology!” I ended up buying some shares in Universal Display (one of the OLED pioneer companies). And I made sure to stay updated on OLEDs. In 2004 (almost 10 years ago) I launched OLED-Info as a hobby or a test to see how is it to have a web site. Later on it became my main business (as it is today). You can read more about my personal OLED history and a bit more about me here.

How many years have you been in this industry?

It depends... I first learned about OLEDs at least 15 years ago. But to be honest I really started seriously following OLEDs in 2004, so it's 10 years.

OLED Handbook

The OLED Handbook is the most comprehensive guide to Organic LED technology, including current and future applications.

You recently published the OLED Handbook, the most comprehensive guide to the technology and its history. Why should an Electrical Contractor or other Lighting Professional read the OLED Handbook?

The OLED Handbook pretty much summarizes everything there is to know about the OLED market (or at least everything I know about it). It explains the technology behind OLEDs (including the different OLED types and materials, the production processes, etc.), the OLED industry (the major players, the production capacity of each, future plans, etc.) and the OLED market (what kind of displays, panels and products are on the market today). It covers both OLED lighting and OLED displays.

Would you say OLED is a pretty hot technology right now?

OLED displays are starting to become popular, mostly by Samsung (small mobile displays) and LG (OLED TVs). OLED lighting is not very popular yet. You can actually say that this market is pretty much non-existent. OLED lighting panels are very expensive still, [and] in an order of magnitude, more expensive than [traditional] LEDs. The performance today is also not stellar compared to what can be achieved in the future. I estimate that the OLED lighting market today is probably around $100 million. Most of these panels are being used in expensive, large installations.

See Audi's installation of OLED panels in their conference rooms, for example.

What types of businesses could benefit from OLED lighting?

OLEDs can be used to make large area-based lighting panels. This is very different to what we're used to - either point or line lighting. OLEDs offer soft, beautiful light and a freedom of design. OLED panels can be made transparent, flexible and color-tunable and may be used on glass, plastic or metal substrates.

OLEDs can be used for residential lighting, office lighting, commercial lighting and automotive lighting. The applications are endless really, and there are many advantages to OLEDs over other technologies.

How does OLED compete with "normal lighting" like fluorescent, incandescent and LED?

As I said, OLEDs offer a new source of light. When compared to LEDs and CFLs, OLED provide a high "quality" light (high CRI, soft, color-tunable) over a large area. Perhaps you should point your visitors to our Introduction to OLED Lighting article.

Flexible OLED

While still on the pricey side, OLEDs produce some of the sharpest TV images.

What companies carry OLED products?

There are several companies (including Philips, OSRAM, LG Chem and others) that already offer OLED lighting panels. At this stage this is really low-volume production and the panels are very expensive. All the panels today use glass. There are already flexible, color-tunable and transparent OLEDs on the market. The largest OLED today is a 320x320 mm panel from LG Chem (LG is also the only company to offer flexible panels).

Several lighting companies (for example Acuity Brands) are already adopting OLEDs in high-end luminaries.

What else do you want Electrical Contractors and Distributors to know about the emerging OLED market?

I think that OLED lighting is still at a very early stage, and it will take at least 2-3 years before panels will be priced competitively with LEDs and CFLs (if ever!).

So while this is still a very early time, This is a technology worth watching, as it may grab a large market share in the not-too-distant future, mostly due to the good light quality and freedom of design (mostly flexible and transparent panels). It's always good to learn about new technologies before they become common place, and get ready for the future of lighting!

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