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Light-emitting diode-based lighting positioned for profit

Posted: 02 Feb 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:led? energy? bulb? pda? cellphone?

As the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery, and tech jobs keep moving to Asia, a handful of visionaries are bucking the trend. The next decade may well belong to these "eco-preneurs" who build their empires on "green" technologies that conserve, recycle or replace the many natural resources we've taken for granted.

The "low-hanging fruit" in green tech lies in the generation, and the conservation, of energy. This is what some far-sighted entrepreneurs are cashing in.

One example is the embryonic solid-state lighting industry. A visit to "Blue 2003," the world's first global LED-fest, organized by Compound Semiconductor News, convinced me that LED-based lighting has the potential to help reduce our energy consumption and improve the quality of our lives.

While LED-based lamps still face many challenges to bring their efficiencies up, and their prices down, they hold the promise of delivering high-quality light while consuming as much as 75 percent less power than their incandescent cousins. And given that lighting consumes 23 percent of electrical energy, or 7 percent to 10 percent of all energy consumed in the United States alone, it is easy to understand how this could influence energy imports.

LED-based lamps are already popular in applications where their long life and versatility make up for their high cost. The first LED-based equivalent to a 60W bulb soon will hit the market at a hefty $125, but that should change quickly. It is expected that improvements in materials, processes and scale of production will allow solid-state lights to begin to approach a price where their 100,000h+ life makes them competitive with 10,000h compact fluorescent lamps.

Although they are not yet as efficient as compact fluorescent bulbs, LED-based lamps are durable and offer colors and spectral options that are not available with other devices. And, unless the compact fluorescent industry develops a program for eliminating or recycling the mercury used in their bulbs, we'll be facing serious contamination in the near future.

Not counting the millions of cellphones, dashboards and PDA screens they illuminate, lighting-oriented LEDs were expected to enjoy $141 million in sales last year. And that's expected to rise to more than $1 billion by 2007.

LED-based lighting will not save the world by itself, but it can make a difference.

- Lee Goldberg

Green Electronics

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