The Department of Energy is brightening its portfolio with a $20.6 million investment in 13 twinkling, solid-state lighting research and development projects, which will provide a solid boost to research into LED manufacturing.
Production costs are keeping LEDs from being the truly disruptive technology that LED evangelists preach. While LEDs could one day replace every incandescent and fluorescent bulb in your home, they likely are already at work in your laptop, car and cell phone. LEDs are an opportunity not only for lighting companies but for consumer electronics makers, which is why startups and electronics giants alike are spending millions to develop a low-cost way to manufacture the sparkly little diodes.
Here are five of the DOE-funded LED ventures that sounded the most promising to us:
Add-Vision (Scotts Valley, Calif.): An obstacle to manufacturing LEDs is the delicate light-emitting material that cannot be exposed to air. Add-Vision is developing organic LEDs using a robust and stable polymer for open-air processing on a flexible substrate. The result could put bendy OLED screens all over the place.
Team Members: University of California, Los Angeles; University of Southern California, Santa Cruz
Project Value: $2,010,076
Estimated DOE contribution: up to $1,567,858
Crystal IS (Green Island, N.Y.): As LEDs get smaller and production ramps up, manipulating the tiny materials in each lamp is increasingly important in manufacturing. Crystal IS works with nitride semiconductors, which power the growing blue laser industry. With potential applications in high-density DVDs, displays and high-power microwaves, the industry revolving around nitride semiconductors will grow by $10 billion annually starting in 2010, Crystal IS forecasts.
Team Member: Philip Lumileds Lighting Co.
Project Value: $1,286,680
Estimated DOE contribution: up to $1,029,343
Cree (Goleta, Calif.): This DOE money follows Cree’s recent acquisition of hardware maker LED Lighting Fixtures. The project the DOE is specifically funding here seeks to develop a high-efficiency, low-cost LED that could replace existing standard, halogen, fluorescent and metal halide lamps in a variety of applications where LEDs could provide energy and cost savings.
Project Value: $2,558,959
Estimated DOE contribution: up to $1,995,988
General Electric (Niskayuna, NY): North American lighting giant GE will be using DOE funds to continue research on making an LED replacement for your standard ceiling light.
Team Members: GE Lumination; University of Maryland
Project Value: $ 2,886,040
Estimated DOE contribution: up to $ 2,164,530
Philips Lumileds Lighting(San Jose, Calif.): The biggest producer of light bulbs in the world, Dutch electronics maker Philips is going for the Holy Grail of LEDs — a “warm, white LED.” Just as many complain about the hue of fluorescents, many find white LEDs uncomfortable for wide use. Creating an LED that captures the “warmth” of incandescent lights could push LEDs into every electrified home in the world.
Project Value: $5,306,000
Estimated DOE contribution: up to $2,653,000