The Market for Terahertz Products will Reach $570 Million by 2021

The Market for Terahertz Products will Reach $570 Million by 2021

By May Alelin Pagal

The electromagnetic spectrum covers all the different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. This includes wavelengths we can see, visible light, and those which we cannot, radio waves and X-rays. Over the years, the “unseen” electromagnetic radiations have been scientifically explored and the result created a revolutionizing force in a countless number of applications, including those within manufacturing, biotechnology, medicine, communications, and computer science. Take for instance; the ability to harness X-rays has led to the development of non-destructive imaging. Currently, it is widely used in medical and security applications, and in 2012, its global market had reached $10 billion, and is expected to increase by 18% to $12 billion by 2017. Another is radio waves, which are the basis for the wireless technology, and are projected by 2017 to be at the core of a $2.1 trillion dollar industry.

While X-rays and radio waves may be the more known revolutionizing force, there is one band of electromagnetic frequencies that had previously been understudied, yet holds a greater potential and even has the capacity to be a disruptive force in scientific sectors such as: Imaging, Object Recognition, Chemical/biomedical analysis and Communication. This spectrum band lies in between the radio waves and the visible spectrum consists of frequencies ranging from 0.3 THz – 3 THz, and is known as terahertz waves. One such distinct property of terahertz waves is that they are non-ionizing, which means they do not damage tissues and DNA.

This, combined with their capacity for imaging purposes, can provide a safer and more secure healthcare. When tuned properly, terahertz waves of a slightly higher energy can safely penetrate a few millimeters of subcutaneous tissue. This allows for greater visibility and the potential for use in subcutaneous medical imaging and diagnostics. Since terahertz waves are non-ionizing, medical technology will be more widely applicable to repeated exposure and everyday use. One of the many companies investing in this profitable potential is Qualcomm, a leader in communications technology, which initiated a $10-million prized competition where contestants are to develop a “portable, wireless medical diagnostic device that fits in the palm of your hand.”

Another industry which can greatly benefit in terahertz is the scanner technology market and consequently, the security sector. A new terahertz-based scanner which debuted in China is able to scan continuously, screening over 500 people per hour. It has the ability to detect metal objects as well as non-metal materials such as ceramics, powders and liquids, all the while not revealing any specific body parts. In Europe, a British company called Digital Barriers has developed another terahertz-based scanner that claims to be able to distinguish a bag of flour versus cocaine from 80 feet away, while in motion.

In the case of smaller and cheaper wireless chips, terahertz technology is poised to revolutionize an even broader range of technologies for portable and personal use. In 2011, the semiconductor company, Rohm, introduced a silicon chip/antenna capable of transmitting terahertz waves at 1.5 Gbps, which measured only 3mm x 1.5mm, and cost less than $5 per unit. In 2012, researchers at the Imperial College of London and A*Star Institute of Singapore unveiled a terahertz antenna that measures a mere 100 nanometers.

Terahertz rays’ specific wavelength enables the intriguing ability to function as a method of transferring wireless data information at unprecedented rates. In 2012, the Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a terahertz chip, which is smaller than a 10-yen coin, and is less than 2.5 cm in length, capable of transmitting data at rates of up to 3Gbps. Researchers theorize that terahertz waves may eventually be used to deliver rates of data transfer up to 100 Gbps.

Another indispensable property of terahertz waves is it can identify a chemical’s specific signature, including differentiating between elemental allotropes. Hence, compositional analysis will be carried out more precisely and efficiently. As an example, terahertz waves would be able to differentiate between diamond, graphite, graphene and carbon nanotubes, all of which have the exact same chemical makeup, but vastly different chemical properties due to variations in the geometric arrangement of the atoms. Also, chemical analysis capabilities of terahertz imaging can also be integrated into the process of pharmaceutical analysis, allowing for the detection of incorrect formulations or intentional drug counterfeiting techniques. One company embarking in this market is Teraview, which has delivered the next generation of material composition analyzers to top universities around the world, and has also begun marketing their sensors for the purpose of pharmaceutical quality control.

The industries cited above are just a few sample sectors which can significantly gain from this great potential. Research around the world has been conducted also in: embedded identifiers on products which terahertz can track and decode, in employing terahertz waves to increase the efficiency of solar panels by 40% and the battery life of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries by 250%, non-invasive analysis of rare art and artifacts, the detection of structural flaws in the coatings of reusable spacecraft and building foundations, the detection of damaged or sub-par fruit in an automated manner, and so on.

Terahertz research is now at an all-time high, and will continue to grow dramatically in the approaching decades. There has been nearly exponential growth in the number of scientific publications regarding terahertz wave technology.1The market for THz products will reach $570 million by 2021, with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35% during that time.2 With each new breakthrough, terahertz technology becomes increasingly aligned to become a pervasive and disruptive force, with the market size rapidly expanding as the technology is refined and applications are diversified. Everything looks very promising; however, quite a lot has to be done in working with these terahertz frequencies. This advancement still poses a lot of challenges, even as much as its advantages have to offer.

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1 “The growth of biomedical terahertz research.” J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 47 (2014) 374009 (11pp)
2 “Terahertz Radiation Systems: Technologies and Global Markets.” bcc Research, Report Code IAS029B, March 2012

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