Apr 14, 2021

Hyaline Z2: The nature-inspired material that brings futuristic electronic displays to life

Display Touch Sensors

Brighter digital displays. Clearer images. Longer battery life. What do these device features have in common? A bio-inspired electronic film can help achieve them all.

Last year, we launched Hyaline Z2, the first of our electronic films. Inspired by biology to deliver premier properties, Hyaline films aim to free product developers from the limits of traditional petrochemistry. In turn, they can design for people like you and me a new generation of devices, including foldable phones and displays with the latest LED technology: MicroLED.

Next week, a who’s who of the touch screen industry will gather at Touch Taiwan 2021 to show off innovations that may one day make it into touch screens everywhere. We’ll be there, too, giving industry leaders their first up-close-and-personal with this breakthrough product (you can see more technical details in our product brochure). Here, we share some details and some of the ways this could benefit the electronics industry.

The technological wonder we all carry with us

First, to understand electronic films, consider the technological wonder most of us carry around every day: our mobile phone. Your touch screen is marvellously complex, composed of many layers of functional materials that bring us the rich display and touch interactivity that’s indispensable today.

Image showing the layers of a mobile phone screen

If you’re reading this on your phone, Hyaline Z2 could easily end up in your pocket someday. That’s because Hyaline Z2 is an ideal material for the touch sensor panel — the layer that responds to your touch inputs. We searched nature’s vast library of biomolecules to find exactly which ones could make a polymer with just the right qualities: it must be flexible, have little or no color (yellow index) or haze (birefringence), and allow as much light as possible to pass through from the display layer just underneath it.

Our search led us to focus on polyimide films. This was a radical thought, as bio-based polyimides were seen by the industry as unusable due to coloration and molecular weight issues. We challenged these limitations, and with our biofacturing platform found the monomers that deliver the ideal performance properties for electronics. That product — Hyaline Z2 — is in the midst of customer qualification processes now.

Besides providing a clear and bright display, Hyaline Z2 can help devices conserve energy. That’s because a clearer film means the display doesn’t have to use as much energy emitting light through the touch sensor layer. End result: potentially longer battery life.

An example of how birefringence affects how light travels through a material. Low-birefringence films like Hyaline Z2 can enable clearer, brighter displays with lower energy consumption. Image source: APN MJM on Wikipedia

Another great use of Hyaline Z2 is as your phone screen’s backplate. Like the name suggests, this is the layer of your screen that supports everything else in front. It rests in front of our phone’s processor, battery, cameras, and other components. Until now, most backplates have been colored, so you couldn’t put a front-facing camera behind them. Because Hyaline Z2 is so clear, it’s perfect as a backplate, allowing the front-facing camera to point out through the screen. No more notchgate.

Image showing the Z2 backplate in a mobile phone camera

Breakthrough films for breakthrough features

In two short years, we used nature as the inspiration to design films with new monomers, develop Hyaline Z2, and transition it to market. We successfully shifted the paradigm of what is possible using a bio-based polyimide. But Hyaline Z2 is just the first product in our family of films.

ZYM0101 — like Hyaline Z2 — is optically clear, but it combines exceptional optical clarity with a unique balance of strength, thermal stability, and flexibility. This film aims to be stronger, more transparent, more temperature resistant, and thinner than competing products. Imagine taking your phone out of your pocket and unfolding it to the size of a tablet. ZYM0101’s breakthrough combination of properties could enable true foldable phones and personal devices, and our goal is to bring it to market in 2023.

While Hyaline Z2 and ZYM0101 are ideal films for electronic applications where optical clarity is the driver, other customers need an electronic film where the driving property is the ability to maintain integrity at high temperature. We tinkered with Hyaline Z2’s thermal properties to create a third Hyaline film, ZYM0107, a high temperature-tolerant, soldering-compatible film now in development. That sounds a little technical, but what’s important to know is this: this film is very well suited to one of the next big things in digital display, MicroLED, which stands to replace OLED as the champion in digital picture quality. It could also enable far-out applications such as flexible, printable electronics, or even satellite solar panels. Our goal is to bring ZYM0107 to market next year.

Nature design comes to the electronics industry

The electronic display industry is a fast-moving, >$1 billion market with a complex supply chain of sub-system assemblers, component makers, and OEMs, all moving at digital speed to meet consumer demand for new products and innovation. Until now, that innovation has been limited in large part by the raw materials and embedded processes of the traditional chemical and materials industry. It’s a tribute to human ingenuity that we’ve come this far with just a half-dozen or so petrochemical building blocks.

Biofacturing changes everything. We are just beginning to delve into nature’s vast molecular library to find biomolecules exquisitely suited to a new generation of products, opening up new materials that product makers can only dream of today. Electronics is our first focus, but we are applying this same approach to agriculture, consumer care, and more.

So hold onto your hats — the future of electronics innovation just got a little brighter and clearer.

Please click here to download our Hyaline brochure for more details about our Hyaline film family.