By Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, head of consulting, IDTechEx

The conductive ink and paste business is a large market that will generate US$1.6 billion in 2014 in revenue at the ink/paste level. This market however is segmented, consisting of many emerging and mature markets and future growth will be unevenly spread with several target markets experiencing rapid growth while others decline.

This represents both opportunities as well as risk for all market participants. The photovoltaic sector is a large target market for conductive paste. It however underwent a period of distress characterised by tumbling prices, bankruptcies and consolidation. This was triggered by the rapid expansion of production capacity in China and the simultaneous reduction of subsidies in Europe. In the same period however, other markets such as the touch screen and the automotive (with conductive inks/paste) sectors experienced continued growth while many others remained at a nascent or emerging state. In the background to all this, the financial crisis impacted the price of raw silver (the dominant technology), causing it to increase by 4.5 times between 2009 and 2012. These trends had huge implications for the market, strongly affecting the demand and changing its composition, while generating a global wave of interest in alternatives.

IDTechEx finds that the photovoltaic sector will recover, registering growth. However, various plating technologies will steal market share away from silver flake paste, adversely affecting demand. This will however happen slowly over the coming decade and screen printed paste will continue to dominate the market. The penetration rate of plating will be slow thanks to falling silver prices. Inkjet printable inks will also slowly penetrate this sector as silicon wafers get thinner, requiring non-contact printing. The underlying incentive for uptake will however remain weak here given the low spot prices of silicon ingots, limiting growth. In general, silver nanoparticles will remain a very small player in this sector.

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