In yet another boost for the UK solar market, the government has now announced that it will invest a total of £8.4m in research and development into new technology that will lead to the creation of a range of new specialist plastic electronics products including long-life solar cells.

A range of specialist plastic electronics businesses will benefit from the investment, which was announced by the Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, during a speech to the Tomorrow's Giants conference in London.

Thirteen projects, involving more than 30 industrial and academic partners, will be able to take advantage of the funding allocated as a result of two competitions run by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board.

Willetts said, “It is early days for this emerging field, but plastic electronics will give rise to a range of new exciting products, such as ultra-efficient lighting and cheaper, longer-lasting solar cells. Looking ahead, this technology offers enormous potential to help our local environment, improve our everyday standard of living and support the nation's economy.

“The global market for plastic electronics is now worth almost US$2bn (£1.3bn) and is forecasted to grow to as much as US$120bn (£80.2bn) by 2020. The funding I've announced today is important in supporting UK businesses to be world leaders in one of the key industries of the future. Commercially exploiting the outputs of the UK's world-leading science and research base has a vital role to play in helping our economy to grow.”

The government has offered £7.4m to eight projects to help build the supply chain and to overcome the barriers to UK exploitation of plastic electronics technology, including more than £800,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). A further £1m has been offered by the Technology Strategy Board to five projects to encourage UK businesses to use plastic electronics in their product development by producing demonstrators with potential for real commercial value.

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board said, “The UK is among the world's leading players in plastic electronics, and the opportunities to be a major part of a whole new manufacturing sector are very real. The benefits are potentially huge – for the UK economy, our society and the environment. And the sector is predicted to grow at an astonishing rate over the next two decades.

“Very sophisticated plastic electronics technology already exists but we believe that there are huge opportunities out there for much broader incorporation of the technology into products. The challenge is to entice companies, especially those from the design sector, to work with the technology.”

Plastic electronics allows circuits to be produced at relatively low cost by printing electronic materials onto a range of rigid or flexible surfaces.