IP, Reports & Roadmaps | Jun 09, 2011

US Commits $14.8M to LED Lighting Research

Latest funding intended to advance both inorganic and organic forms of solid-state lighting, and reduce the cost of the technologies.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded another $14.8 million in funding for development projects aimed at advancing solid-state lighting technologies.

The latest round is the DOE’s seventh to be focused on the core technology of LED lighting, and the second to include awards directly aimed at improving manufacturing.

Major recipients of the new awards, which target both conventional and organic LED development, include the equipment manufacturer Veeco Instruments, the India-headquartered manufacturing giant Moser Baer Technologies, and the LED chip makers Cree and Philips Lumileds.

Nearly half of the funds made available have gone to Veeco ($4 million) and Moser Baer ($2.9 million) for projects focused on significantly reducing the cost of LED and OLED lighting, in a bid to make the technology directly cost-competitive with conventional lighting.

Although LEDs have already made major inroads into some commercial lighting applications, where the extra up-front cost of the technology can typically be recouped inside two years, it is widely acknowledged that a significant cost reduction is still required for uptake in the most cost-sensitive applications, such as residential and office lighting.

Philips Lumileds, for example, suggests that a 20-fold improvement in the lumens-per-dollar metric is still needed, and will be achieved through a combination of economies of scale and new technological developments to both reduce manufacturing cost and increase light output from chips.

Silicon wafer platform
Veeco’s project focuses on the introduction of an aluminum nitride layer into the LED epiwafer structure, to act as a buffer between the light-emitting layers of the device and a silicon substrate. This approach is seen as one of the key ways that LED makers may be able to reduce device costs, because it would allow the utilization of existing silicon semiconductor manufacturing equipment and facilities. A number of LED makers, including Osram Opto Semiconductors, are known to have worked on the technology extensively.

The Moser Baer project is focused on reducing the cost of making OLED lighting panels at the firm's pilot line in New York state, and will closely involve the key OLED materials developer Universal Display Corporation. Both Veeco and Moser Baer are providing an additional $1 million of private funding towards the DOE projects.

In the other funded projects, Cree ($1.6 million) and Philips Lumileds ($2.0 million) will work on product development of more cost-effective high-performance devices, with the Philips subsidiary focused on high-voltage, low-current chips that should simplify driver IC requirements. Cree’s target will be to produce ultra-bright warm-white LED packages capable of 128 lm/W efficacy.

Meanwhile, three academic institutions and a start-up company will share the $4.3 million made available for core technology research, which is intended to fill key technology gaps.

California-based Soraa, which is best-known for developing both green LEDs and laser diodes on a novel non-polar semiconductor material platform, receives $0.67 million to further advance high-current devices. Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Rochester and the Research Triangle Institute share the remaining funds, with ASU and Rochester working on improvements to OLED output and efficiency.

The awards have been made shortly after the DOE published the latest version of its technology roadmap for solid-state lighting. The updated document calls for LED lighting to reach a cost of just $2.20 per kilolumen by 2015 and $1 per kilolumen by 2020. That compares with the estimated 2010 figure of $18 per kilolumen, suggesting a similar magnitude of cost reduction indicated by Lumileds.

The DOE announcement comes while Energy Secretary Steven Chu is visiting Russia to discuss potential collaboration on new technologies across the energy sector, including solid-state lighting.

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