Applied Materials Eyeing Solid-State Lighting

Applied Materials is taking its solar equipment manufacturing expertise and moving it indoors. The company plans to focus on solid-state lighting as a line of business, said Annette Finsterbusch, a partner with Applied Ventures, speaking at the Rice Alliance Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum in Houston on Thursday. Finsterbusch, who works for the corporate venture arm of Applied Materials, said the semiconductor and solar equipment maker, “is moving toward a third tier of business which is lighting — solid state lighting.”

When asked for details, a spokesman for Applied said, “While we haven’t officially announced any products, our EES (Energy and Environment Solutions) group is looking at various ways we might participate in the solid state lighting area. Nothing to talk about really yet, other than it shares the same dynamic as many an emerging markets: huge potential, currently too costly for consumers and looking for a technology solution that involves Applied’s thin-films expertise.”

Applied, which spent more than $1 billion buying solar equipment companies over the last few years, has bet big on the space, and is the largest supplier of thin-film and PV manufacturing equipment in the world. However, the solar section isn’t yet profitable, in part because of charges related to acquisition costs. Adding lighting to its portfolio might be risky up front, but the opportunity for organic light emitting diodes could be large if production costs go down.

Last year, Applied Ventures, participated in a funding round for Group IV Semiconductor, which makes solid state lighting on silicon — the same material most semiconductors are made on. In addition to the funding, Applied has offered to help Group IV develop a process for placing its light-emitting films on silicon wafers, which plays to Applied’s thin firm and chip equipment expertise.

Applied is also participating in the lighting industry through the European Organic Phosphorescent lights for Applications in the Lighting market 2008 Program. The organization aims to develop an OLED production technology capable of achieving the cost target of a few euro cents per square centimeter for a white OLED device. Members of the consortia include Aixtron, Osram, Philips and BASF.

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