Display Manufacturers Step Up Efforts to Produce Eco-Friendly Products

By addressing everything from the way displays and display products are made, to how they operate during their lifetimes, to the disposal process at the end-of-life stage, display makers all over the world are finding innovative approaches to ensure their products are more eco-friendly.

One of the most common—and common-sense—strategies in use today is the reduction of power consumption in both displays and display applications.

"Energy efficiency is extremely important, and that's something a lot of companies have been working on," said Craig Hershberg, Director of Environmental Affairs for Toshiba America Inc. "Environmental stewardship is one of our primary responsibilities."

Toshiba is currently battling energy inefficiency in new laptop computers such as its Portégé R500 notebook PC. One way that the company has slashed energy consumption is by using light-emitting-diode (LED) backlights for the display, which not only lowers power consumption, but allows the display to be mercury free, Hershberg said. Some of Sony's VAIO PCs now are being made with a white LED backlight, which significantly reduces power consumption.

Sony also announced recently that all BRAVIA LCD televisions sold in Europe since January 2007 achieved a standby power consumption below 1 watt, and most models are below 0.3 watts. In addition, many BRAVIA models consume less in on mode when the set's innovative power-saving ambient light sensor is activated, the company said.

Samsung is also experimenting with LED backlighting. The company will be releasing a TV for the holiday season that features LED backlights with dimming control. Local dimming allows specific areas of a display to be dimmed as necessary, reducing power consumption significantly, Samsung Vice President of LCD Business Scott Birnbaum explained. LED backlights have the added benefit of yielding a much higher contrast ratio than in a typical cold-cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL)-backlit LCD TV, he said. Samsung is also working on methods of making CCFL technology more efficient, but Birnbaum could not elaborate on those efforts.

Like Toshiba and Sony, Samsung is working toward making mobile-display products such as laptop computers more energy efficient—not just for the environment's sake, but for customer convenience. Birnbaum explained Samsung is particularly focused on mobile displays in terms of power efficiency.

"We're looking to reduce power in displays for lots of different reasons—so phones will last longer, so laptops will work the entire time on cross-country flights," he said.

Energy efficiency in mobile displays such as laptops and mobile phones has been a big selling point for Coherent Inc., which manufactures lasers used in the low-temperature-polysilicon (LTPS) annealing process for small active-matrix (AM) LCD panels like those found in the Apple iPhone. LTPS annealing enables the transformation of amorphous silicon film into crystallized silicon films, which have better electrical characteristics, according to Coherent Project Engineering Manager Brandon Turk. That means manufacturers can make smaller transistors that require lower operating voltage drive, so operating the display's backplane becomes much more efficient.

LTPS annealing also creates a higher aperture ratio in backplanes, meaning the transistors let more light through and displays can reach high levels of brightness without high levels of backlighting. And that directly translates to longer battery life, Turk said.

"There are a number of advantages (to using LTPS technology for mobile displays), but power consumption is definitely a big one," said Turk. "With more advanced, small, high-resolution displays, consumers are demanding better picture quality, higher brightness, and longer battery life."

But increasing power efficiency during a display's lifetime is not the only step toward making greener products. In July 2006, the European Union's Restriction of use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive banned the use of certain levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in electronic equipment. Similar RoHS directives are in place in California and China. Toshiba's products adhere to these restrictions, and the company is also aiming to eliminate brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from its products by 2009, Hershberg said.

According to Navid Adieh, an environmental specialist working for Toshiba, the company has also instituted "green procurement guidelines" for its suppliers—meaning that Toshiba won't buy components from suppliers using the hazardous substances it is trying to phase out. Toshiba is also working to cut down on the number of parts used in its products so they are easier to break down and recycle, and has instituted a large-scale take-back recycling program.

"It's not just an end game and a beginning game," Hershberg said. "We're trying to look at this as a lifecycle approach: phasing out chemicals, setting tight deadlines, and making sure that our customers can recycle these products after the end of life."

But despite manufacturers' efforts to make more eco-friendly display products, the question remains whether or not consumers really care.

"I think generally speaking, environmental awareness is up," Hershberg said. "And I think the demand for green products is increasing. Perhaps not dramatically, but steadily. And I do expect it to continue to increase."

— Jessica Quandt


Pioneer and Sharp to Partner on Small- and Medium-Size Displays

Display-industry giants Sharp Corp. and Pioneer Corp. announced on September 20 they would form a business and capital alliance that would cover everything from next-generation DVD players to small- and medium-size displays for the automotive market. While industry speculation has sprung up that the deal will also include larger displays such as Pioneer's plasma and Sharp's liquid-crystal-display (LCD) TVs, the two companies have so far only confirmed a partnership on the smaller displays.

Effective December 20, 2007, Sharp will own 30 million shares of Pioneer, and Pioneer will own 10 million stocks in Sharp (about 14% and 0.9% of each company, respectively, according to Reuters).

According to a press statement, Sharp and Pioneer entered the agreement to create new business and improve both companies' corporate value through utilization of both companies' resources and technology, including imaging and display technology. The partnership is apparently meant to counteract "severe market circumstances" for electronics companies caused by the increase of the cost of new-product development and relevant capital investment.

Sharp and Pioneer said they would focus on the creation of new business in the automobile-electronics field using, among other products, Sharp's small- and medium-size displays. Pioneer also has organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology for small displays, though it was not specifically mentioned in the release. The "imaging" field will also be a target, wherein both companies will attempt to expand their display business and develop new products by merging each company's expertise in advanced imaging and display technology.

Pioneer's move to partner with Sharp on small and medium displays is not a surprising one, according to Dale Maunu, a vice president specializing in small- and medium-size displays at industry research group DisplaySearch. Over the past several fiscal quarters, Maunu pointed out, Pioneer has begun buying displays for its automotive business from Sharp, not from TMDisplay, as it had in the past.

However, Maunu said, Pioneer is hardly the market leader in the small-displays sector, meaning there must have been greater incentive for Sharp to partner with the company.

"Pioneer is not a big maker of small/medium displays. I think this past quarter they were No. 3 for passive-matrix OLED. And relative to LCD, it's a pretty small amount (about $90 million)," Maunu said. "There's not enough business there between OLED and the automotive stuff for the whole deal to make sense. I would think it has to be something else as well."

Indeed, Sharp and Pioneer also indicate they'll cooperate on next-generation DVD-related products, network-related products in home electronics, and navigation and communications systems for vehicles. But rumors of a partnership on large-screen flat-panel displays (FPDs) remain purely speculation.

"There's nothing concrete to comment on at this point," DisplaySearch President and Founder Ross Young said.


—Jessica Quandt