White LEDs light up new markets

April 5, 2006
The latest report in the LED Quarterly Insights series provides a detailed analysis of the technology challenges and market opportunities for white LED manufacturers.
Continuing advances in fabrication techniques and device design are now yielding white LEDs with enough lumen output to start challenging traditional light sources in a number of applications. For example, suppliers to the automotive industry predict that car headlamps based on LEDs will appear on high-end production models by 2007. Key benefits include long lifetime, better energy efficiency and the possibility of more flexible lighting solutions, such as dynamic bending lights.

To succeed in this market - which could be worth EUR1 billion at the component level by 2010 - LED manufacturers must further improve the luminous efficacy of their devices, which will increase the lumen output per package and reduce the need for external cooling systems. They must also reduce the cost to around EUR0.10 per LED, which is the price that automotive lighting-system suppliers have said they are prepared to pay.

Meanwhile, some of the earliest adopters of white LEDs will be in the industrial and medical sectors, where new technologies that deliver better performance are eagerly sought out. Surgical lighting and industrial machine-vision applications are two key areas where white LEDs are already being deployed for their improved functionality and lower running costs, and further applications will follow as lumen output increases and color consistency between LEDs improves.

A bigger challenge for white LEDs will be to hit the right price/performance points to penetrate the general illumination market. Most early applications will be limited to public buildings and business premises, where serious and quantifiable savings can be made in operating costs - both through the need for reduced maintenance and lower energy consumption. White LEDs will also find early application in architectural installations seeking to make a design statement through the use of innovative lighting technology.

In the future, however, continuing cost reductions will enable LEDs to compete in the mass-market lighting industry. So-called "cost-of-light" formulations that incorporate long-term running costs indicate that LED technology will become the “cheapest” lighting solution by 2010, while LED manufacturers predict that unit prices will fall rapidly as production volumes increase, yields improve, and further advances are made in lumen output and efficiency.

The challenge for LED manufacturers is to ensure that quality does not suffer as they ramp up their production processes. One of the biggest objections to white LEDs in all applications is the consistency in color output between LEDs. More rigorous process control - combined with more stringent, standardized color binning techniques at both component and system levels - will be crucial for LED technology to be adopted in mainstream lighting applications.

LED Quarterly Insights – Report 3: White LEDs

This edition of LED Quarterly Insights analyses technology options being investigated to improve the performance of white LEDs, and provides informed commentary on the markets being targeted by white LED manufacturers. Key issues discussed in the report include the efficiency of phosphor conversion, the search for alternative materials systems, the need for colour consistency, and the emerging applications for white LEDs.