metamaterial photo

Metamaterial array constructed of copper split-ring resonators and wires. [Image: NASA Glenn Research/Wikimedia Commons]

Metamaterials research labs have been churning out spectacular results for years—but thus far, the discoveries have made only limited progress from the lab bench to the marketplace. According to a report by the market intelligence firm Lux Research, however, that could be about to change.

Indeed, the company’s recently published report, Metamaterials Market Forecast, argues that the market for “metamaterial devices,” starting from a near-zero base today, could soar to some US$10.7 billion in 2030. Driving that growth, according to Lux: 5G in the near term, sensors—and especially lidar—in the long term.

Gaining in manufacturability

Metamaterials are finely engineered materials that use often nanoscale structural patterning to manipulate waves in specific ways. In optics in particular, they have long been associated with exotic phenomena, such as negative-refractive indexes and “invisibility cloaks,” and more recently with prototype devices such as ultra-thin lenses. Much of the work in these systems thus far, however, has been at the proof-of-concept stage.

The Lux report—which looked at metamaterials in both for electromagnetic (radio/microwave and optical) and acoustic waves—argues that that metamaterial-based devices are poised to start making significant commercial inroads. A big reason lies in improvements in design and manufacturing techniques and technologies, in areas such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing) and lithography, which will make cost-effective production of these exotic devices at scale more feasible.

From 5G to sensors

Meanwhile, on the demand side, Lux sees two growth drivers, playing out more or less in sequence.

Over the next five years or so, the expected rollout of 5-G infrastructure will, the firm believes, push new demand in metamaterial-based devices such as antennas and other mobile broadband devices, where the advantages of metamaterials in compactness, energy efficiency and directionality will set them apart from conventional devices. This could expand the metamaterials market in communications to some US$4.5 billion by 2024, according to the company’s modeling.

As the initial 5G-driven demand begins to flatten after 2024 with the maturing of that market, Lux envisions that metamaterials for sensors will take up the slack. The company looks for particular demand for devices in radar and lidar, tied to the autonomous-vehicle market, where the advantages of metamaterials in shrinking device size and cost will carry significant weight. The growth in the sensor market, coupled with flat communications business and steadily growing business in some niche areas, could take the total metamaterials market to US$10.7 billion by 2030, according to Lux.

Right place, right time

Summing up the findings, the report’s lead author, Anthony Vicari, noted in a press release that “with the imminent rollout in 5G network infrastructure and devices, and the subsequent projected growth in connected and autonomous vehicles, metamaterials are becoming viable at just the right time to see rapid growth in these new markets.”

The report also suggests a number of other interesting facets of the metamaterials market. One is the increasing pace of entrepreneurship in this area, with the startup landscape having more than doubled in size in recent years, according to the firm, which points to an emerging metamaterials ecosystem. The company also suggests that the number of players in the market could rapidly increase after the 2024 to 2028 period, when a number of key early patents in communications are set to expire.

More information on the report can be found at https://web.luxresearchinc.com/metamaterials-executive-summary.