DARPA project pushes mid-IR laser efficiencies

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced the availability of funding for the development of highly efficient mid-wave infrared lasers.

ARLINGTON, VA - The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced the availability of funding for the development of highly efficient mid-wave infrared lasers. The new program, known as Efficient Mid-wave Infrared Lasers (EMIL), is intended to drive the efficiency of such lasers more than an order of magnitude beyond the state of the art, with a goal of greater than 50% efficiency.

The specific technical goals of the EMIL program are to demonstrate a mid-wave infrared laser operating continuous wave at room-temperature with high-power (more than 1 W), good beam quality, and operating at 50% efficiency. This would mean that a total of no more than 2 W of electrical power is required to generate the 1 W of laser output power.

Current mid-infrared lasers have wall-plug efficiencies that rarely exceed a few percent and poor operating characteristics at room temperature. In contrast, near-infrared semiconductor lasers have now achieved high-power output at room temperature with excellent beam quality and with wall-plug efficiencies that now exceed 50%. The EMIL program’s key challenge will be to develop mid-wave infrared laser sources that have similar performance levels to those already demonstrated by near infrared lasers.

The EMIL program defines mid-wave infrared lasers as those that operate at wavelengths between 3.8 and 4.8 um. The military uses these lasers for countermeasure and chemical and biological threat detection systems. The revolutionary improvements in efficiency that will be achieved in the DARPA program will result in enormous improvements in the size, weight, performance, and cost of future versions of these military systems.

“Because of its transparency, the mid-wave infrared is rapidly becoming an exciting region of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Mark Rosker, DARPA program manager. “We are just now beginning to understand how to build compact sources to exploit it. The challenge DARPA is making in EMIL will demand a complete rethinking of why these lasers work so inefficiently and dissipate so much wasted power.

The program is outlined in a recently issued broad agency announcement (BAA 06-20) and accompanying information pamphlet. To be considered for the initial round of funding, proposal abstracts are due by April 12; full proposals are due by June 21.

The solicitation and information pamphlet are available on the Federal Business Opportunities and Federal Grants websites: http://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/BAA06%2D20/listing.html or http://www.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=8167.

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