Better, Warmer, Safer LED Lighting

A commercialization grant from Oregon BEST is helping a Portland startup refine its proprietary coating material for LED lighting that could boost acceptance of LEDs in residential applications and potentially save billions of dollars in lighting costs.

The new coating could increase the efficiency of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) by as much as 50 percent, generate warmer tones instead of the bluish-white light associated with LED technology, eliminate the use of toxic heavy metals and cut manufacturing costs.

The $150,000 grant enables Pacific Light Technologies (PLT) to tap research expertise and equipment at Oregon State University to fine-tune manufacturing of the new coating, which uses quantum dots. Quantum dots are tiny semiconductors that at the nanoscale can be manipulated to more efficiently re-emit light from blue LEDs and produce warmer tones similar to incandescent bulbs. 

Current coatings used to warm the bluish light emitted by LEDs are made from patented phosphors, which contain costly rare-earth materials and cause LED light bulbs to have a much lower efficiency. PLT’s current quantum dot materials produce a much more efficient bulb than regular phosphors, but contain trace amounts of cadmium (below Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive limits). The work with OSU is designed to complement internal efforts by PLT engineers (pictured above) to eliminate the cadmium while maintaining the performance of the quantum dots.

LED with Pacific Light Technologies coatingThe increased efficiency attained by replacing phosphors with PLT's quantum dot coating (shown right, applied to an LED) would allow manufacturers to use fewer LEDs in each bulb, cutting the current per-bulb cost – one of several hurdles to wider consumer acceptance of LEDs.

Homeowners have been hesitant to embrace LED lighting in residential applications because the bluish-white light is perceived as cold or harsh, and the current per-bulb retail price is high ($15-$20).

"This project is really about fostering adoption of reasonably priced, non-toxic lighting that will lead to significant energy savings," said Juanita Kurtin, CTO and cofounder of PLT. "If LEDs are adopted at a reasonable rate, we could cut the overall electricity consumption by approximately 50 percent by the year 2030. So the energy conservation aspect of this is huge."

Greg Herman, an Oregon BEST researcher and OSU professor of chemical engineering, is leading the work being performed at the Oregon Process Innovation Center for Solar Cell Manufacturing, an Oregon BEST signature research facility at OSU.

"We believe we can precisely control the size of the quantum dots in the 5-10 nanometer range and therefore control the color of the light emitted from LEDs," Herman said. "This project is an ideal fit for our lab and my interests because of its focus on nontoxic materials and improving energy efficiency. If the world could move to all LED lighting, the total energy savings would be huge."

LED light bulbKurtin said the grant offers her small company the resources to refine a new product without taking time, focus and finances from its current products. 

"The Oregon BEST funding is allowing us to work on current and future products in parallel, and Greg's expertise is a perfect fit with our company," she said. "Markets in Japan and Europe are very down on anything containing cadmium, so this will also help us expand into those markets."

Kurtin met Herman last fall at Oregon BEST FEST, an annual gathering of cleantech entrepreneurs and researchers hosted by Oregon BEST in Portland each September.

“Pacific Light Technologies believes they have developed a breakthrough material for the lighting industry, and we're proud to be able to help them advance their technology,” said Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST. “This is a wonderful example of industry and university researchers teaming up to potentially impact energy consumption in a very significant way.”

In 2011, PLT was launched by the core quantum dot team from an Intel spin-out, SpectraWatt. Pacific Light acquired SpectraWatt’s intellectual property out of bankruptcy after launching at the Portland State Business Accelerator. The company previously received a Gap Grant from the Oregon Nanoscience & Microtechnologies Center (ONAMI).

The current grant is part of $1.5 million in Commercialization Grants that Oregon BEST has awarded in the past 15 months to speed commercialization of the state’s most promising clean technologies being developed by university researchers and private businesses.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
SOURCES: David Kenney, Oregon BEST, 503-725-9849; Juanita Kurtin, Pacific Light Technologies, 971-235-1427; Greg Herman, Oregon State University, 541-737-2496

About Pacific Light Technologies
Pacific Light Technologies
 (PLT), a world leader in optical nanomaterials development and manufacturing, is developing rare-earth-free downconverter materials for high-efficiency solid state lighting (SSL), and is the only quantum dot company focused solely on lighting. PLT’s combination of intellectual property and technology expertise allows a new realm of high-performance materials that can stand up to the harsh environmental realities of high-power LEDs.

About Oregon BEST
The Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) is the nexus for clean technology innovation, building capability, convening collaborations, and accelerating solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. Oregon BEST brings together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths in clean technology to support the commercialization of new products and services. Since establishment in 2007, Oregon BEST’s 210-plus Member Faculty have generated more than $83 million in research revenue from federal, industry and foundation sources to Oregon. At its four partner universities (Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and University of Oregon), Oregon BEST has established a network of seven shared-user research facilities. Oregon BEST Commercialization Grants are awarded to collaborations between entrepreneurs and Oregon BEST member faculty at partner universities.