The Department of Energy has handed out $37 million in stimulus money to companies making and working with light-emitting diodes and their organic cousins. These sources of lighting — referred to as ‘solid state lighting’ — have the potential to be ten times more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs.
The award money, intended to be matched by more than $28 million in corporate investment, is aimed at achieving a specific goal: for solid state lighting to reduce U.S. electric costs by 33 percent by 2030, and to take a substantial bite out of greenhouse gas emissions. Spanning 17 projects in different phases of development, about $66 million is being spent in all to make sure this happens. And this is actually the fifth round of funding the DOE has poured into solid state lighting development.
The financing has been divvied up among several categories. About $4 million will be invested in technology research, $10 million in product development, and $23.5 million in manufacturing. The amounts being allocated to each aren’t surprising. Consistently, more government money is being funneled into manufacturing to create jobs — jobs that will replace those lost in the automotive and other industrial sectors that were hit hard during the economic downturn.
Also the big challenge in making LEDs and OLEDs more widespread is scaling manufacturing processes. The lights themselves already exist in usable forms (the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was entirely covered in LEDs this year, for example). Yes, further research and design work will yield new products and applications, but the opportunity for commercialization is already ripe for the taking.
Cambrios, WhiteOptics and the University of Rochester were listed as recipients for the research money, charged with the task of increasing light output from both LEDs and OLEDs while lowering their cost (they are still more expensive than their incandescent and fluorescent competitors).
Osram Sylvania, Philips Lumileds and General Electric, among others, received funding for product development. Their mission: to devise competitive solid state lighting products that can quickly be introduced to the mass market. This is a real challenge for LEDs and OLEDs. They have been used in head lamps and street lights for years. But making an LED bulb cost competitive with a $5 compact fluorescent has proved nearly impossible. The technology has a way to go.
General Electric and Philips were also tapped to tackle the manufacturing part of the equation, in addition to Universal Display. Mass producing solid state lighting without sacrificing quality is another hurdle standing between the energy efficient lighting systems and retail shelves. It’s up to the companies receiving the $23.5 million in manufacturing grants to solve the problem.
Here is a full list of grant recipients with grant amounts and project descriptions: