HB LEDs shine at Strategies in Light conference

The year 2004 brought continued strong growth (almost 50% cumulative annual growth rate since 1995) for the high-brightness LED market, as evidenced by a record turnout of almost 350 attendees at the 2005 Strategies in Light Conference (Strategies Unlimited; Mountain View, CA) last month.

Mar 1st, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The year 2004 brought continued strong growth (almost 50% cumulative annual growth rate since 1995) for the high-brightness LED market, as evidenced by a record turnout of almost 350 attendees at the 2005 Strategies in Light Conference (Strategies Unlimited; Mountain View, CA) last month.

Available figures for the worldwide market (not including high brightness LEDs produced and sold within mainland China) indicated nearly 40% growth in 2004 to reach almost $4 billion, according to Robert Steele, director of optoelectronics at Strategies Unlimited. Steele also ranked high-brightness LED market growth in 2004 at an estimated two times greater than non-telecom laser diodes, about three times greater than silicon semiconductor components and an order of magnitude greater than the estimated growth of telecom laser components.

More than half of the 2004 market growth was driven by mobile applications, most of which were keypad and display backlights in mobile phones. But the industry will need to fill new application growth areas in order to continue growth as the mobile phone market saturates, Steele said. Promising application areas as well as various technical and market approaches to these applications were covered in depth during two full days of conference presentations and panel discussions.

Sydney Chu, international business director of Cotco International (Hong Kong, China) discussed his company’s efforts in developing LEDs for backlighting large LCD TV screens. Limitations to the current cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) technology include lack of a cost-reduction strategy to help drive LCD TV market penetration over the next few years; heat stress approaching critical levels; severe deterioration of chromaticity with age; failure to maintain brightness uniformity with screen enlargement; and increasing environmental concern over mercury in CCFLs.

Tony Van de Ven, chief technology architect at Lighthouse Technologies (Hong Kong, China) gave a talk on the evolution of the full color LED screen market for video advertising that has grown in a very short time from 56-in diagonal to full building-sized displays. The application types have evolved along with image size and brightness from sporting, music and political events through trade shows, particularly in the auto and PC gaming industries, to building sized digital signage such as the NASDAQ video display in Times Square (New York, NY).

“Electronic billboards have always been envisaged as the killer app, but costs need to come down first,” he said. Currently non-modular small screens from 2 to 8 square meters in surface area can cost up to $50,000. Larger electronic billboards with surface area on the order of 30 square meters and higher resolution can cost up to $500,000. And the most spectacular, building-sized displays, with the highest resolution and exceeding 200 square meters, can cost more than $5 million. As display sizes increase above 100-in diagonals and 1000 nits (candela/meter-squared) brightness, LEDs become the only technology capable of fitting all of the requirements. But in addition to continued cost reduction (LED prices are currently decreasing by about 20% a year, he said), other areas that need more work include maintaining high reliability over very high component counts; redundancy of power supplies and fans, which have relatively low mean times between failure; and development of diagnostics for remote sensing and auto-correction of problems caused by component failures.

The fact that the two presentations following Steele’s conference-opening market review were from Asian companies was indicative not only of the significant Asian presence at the meeting but also the rapid growth of Asian markets as well as manufacturing capability in the high brightness LED industry. This is partly due to government support, Steele said. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding solid-state lighting research on a small scale while the U.S. Next Generation Lighting Initiative remains stalled in Congress. The Japanese national program has been underway since 1998, however and new initiatives have begun in Taiwan, Korea and China.

Ling Wu, director of the National Semiconductor Lighting Engineering Project Coordination and Management Office (Beijing, China) discussed China’s efforts motivated primarily by desires to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption and environmental pollution related to electricity production. Six national ministries and 11 local governments launched China’s solid-state lighting program in June of 2003 with a $17 million investment from the central government to explore the market for LED lighting applications and to promote development of Chinese industry.

In 2003, a total investment of about $725 million was made in China’s LED industry, which included more than 40,000 employees in more than 600 companies producing about 20 billion LEDs. That industry has grown from importing a gallium nitride wafer and supplying 5% of the domestic market for blue chips in 2003 to domestically producing a gallium nitride wafer and chip and supplying 20% of the domestic market for blue chips in 2004. Wu added that domestic industry growth is forecast to supply 40% to 50% of China’s market for blue chips in 2005.

“The combination of government plus private sector efforts could make China the largest market for solid state lighting,” Steele said.

-Hassaun Jones-Bey

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