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Corning says new glass to cut LCD costs

A heavy metal-free glass developed by Corning Inc. will trim costs at a time when prices for the super-thin screens used in LCD televisions are falling more sharply than ever.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A heavy metal-free glass developed by Corning Inc. will trim production and recycling costs at a time when prices for the super-thin screens used in liquid-crystal-display televisions are falling more sharply than ever.

Corning said Tuesday its Eagle XG glass is the first in the LCD industry to be completely free of arsenic as well as other heavy metals such as barium and antimony and halides like chlorine and fluorine. Those can produce potentially harmful byproducts during manufacturing.

“This is one of the most significant glass inventions in a generation,” Peter Bocko, Corning’s director of display-technology research, said in a telephone interview. “It reduces the overall cost all the way from digging stuff out of the ground to the end of life of the display.”

Corning, the world’s largest maker of liquid-crystal-display glass, created the first LCD glass free of barium and antimony in 2000.

Arsenic “is really a magic element to melt a high-temperature, high-performance glass and get it free of bubbles,” Bocko said. “Even an exquisitely small bubble of glass in an LCD screen can actually destroy it and you have to throw it out.

“The way most glass scientists have tried to eliminate bubbles, whether it’s for window glass or making a beer bottle, is to add certain elements that either make the bubbles come out earlier in the process or absorb the gas as the glass is being cooled.”

Beginning in 1995, Corning shifted from “looking for a magic bullet to eliminate these effects” toward trying to “understand the mechanism from a fundamental standpoint that will prevent these bubbles from forming at all. That is what we did, and it’s taken about 11 years of research.”

While LCD glass “is completely safe and will be for any time to come,” Corning wanted to keep ahead of stricter environmental mandates arriving over the next few years, Bocko said. The new glass has been “in test production with customers” over the last few months, he said.

The company, which also makes optical fiber, pollution filters and specialty glass products, expects prices for LCD glass to fall more sharply in the first quarter than in the past. About 38 percent of its $4.58 billion in revenues last year came from LCD glass.

LCD TVs accounted for 11 percent of the global TV market in all of 2005, up from 5 percent in 2004. That share could rise to 19 percent this year and at least 25 percent in 2007, the company predicted.

Corning uses a proprietary “fusion draw” process for making the unvaryingly flat, chemically stable glass. Two sheets separated by a layer of liquid crystals make for high-resolution monitors found in TVs, computers and digital phones as well as video cameras, Palm Pilots, watches, medical imaging devices and aircraft navigation panels.