The recent decision by BP to shut down its Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of pipeline corrosion takes about 400,000 barrels per day of crude oil off world markets. That figure represents only about 8% of the total U.S. oil production, yet the disruption ignited prices and created turmoil in the global oil markets-amplifying widespread general concerns about the precarious nature of the oil supply and our global dependence on it. The reaction also underscores the historically lackluster quest for alternative and renewable energy sources. One benefit of higher oil prices though, will likely be to re-energize this search for alternatives. And besides seeking other energy sources, the way in which we use energy is also coming under scrutiny. Efficiency is key-be it in terms of energy production or energy usage. Photonics technologies promise some solutions to these challenges. They range from solar energy production to more efficient management and utilization of our natural resources. Our Special Report this month details several of these varied options (see “Photonics and the energy crisis,” on p. 68).
High-output LEDs are one potential source of energy-efficient illumination but they may have additional benefits. Their use for backlighting flat-panel displays, for instance, could eliminate the phosphors that are required in current (cold-cathode fluorescent) displays, eventually delivering devices with reduced cost and lower power consumption (see p. 81).
And while on the subject of making the most of natural resources, the use of vision systems for inspecting and sorting vegetables is widespread (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/218550), but a system based on near-IR hyperspectral imaging has recently proven to be a reliable method of checking the quality of pickling cucumbers and may substantially speed pickle production (see p. 91). New wavelengths inevitably extend the applications of any imaging system so advances in UV sources, optics, and detectors are creating new opportunities for reflected-UV imaging techniques (see p. 65).