Bridgelux and Photonstar get funding, Molycorp completes Sillamäe acquisition

Oct. 26, 2011
Bridgelux has raised $15 million to accelerate move to GaN-on-Si LEDs, Photonstar has got $2.2 million in funding for SSL light-engine development, and Molycorp has acquired 100% of Estonia-based, rare-earth producer Molycorp Sillamäe.

Bridgelux hopes to quicken its pace in transitioning to gallium-nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) LED chip manufacturing using a new $15 million funding round. PhotonStar will use its latest £1.35 million ($2.2 million) investment to further develop its solid-state-lighting (SSL) ChromaWhite light engine that produces tunable color. Molycorp, meanwhile, is expanding rare-earth production via the Molycorp Sillamäe purchase and acceleration of mining operations in the US.


Bridgelux's new funding round was provided by existing investors including VantagePoint Capital Partners, DCM, El Dorado Ventures, Novus Energy Partners, IFA, Chrysalix, Harris & Harris Group, Craton Equity Partners, Jebsen Asset Management, and Passport Capital. Bridgelux claims a leadership position in making LEDs on silicon wafers and believes that the technology will lower the manufacturing costs for LEDs, thereby spurring SSL growth.

"We are very pleased with the progress of our GaN-on-Silicon program," said Bridgelux CEO Bill Watkins. "By continuing to drive down the cost of solid-state solutions for general lighting, Bridgelux is helping to expand the market for these solutions, which we expect to grow from $3 billion in 2011 to more than $25 billion in 2015, generating strong growth for our company and our investors."

Bridgelux didn't specify how the new funding will be utilized. The company recently announced that it had manufactured cool-white LEDs with an efficacy of 160 lm/W in the lab on 8-in silicon wafers. At the time the company identified challenges such as a full transition to 8-in wafers and uniformity issues across the wafer as roadblocks to production quantities of GaN-on-Si LEDs.

Watkins said, "This additional capital will further accelerate our breakthrough development efforts in producing commercial grade LEDs on silicon while we continue to deliver the industry’s leading GaN-on-sapphire array solutions."

Photonstar funding

Hampshire, UK-based Photonstar turned to existing shareholders including company chairman Drew Nelson to to raise £1.35 million (around $2.2 million). The funds will support the company's growth in the SSL luminaire market and enable continued development of the ChromaWhite light engine.

The ChromaWhite technology enables what the company calls "true tungsten color reproduction" that transitions to a warmer color temperature when dimmed. At full output power of 720 lm, the light engine features a 4000K color temperature that drops to 2400K when dimmed.

The company says that ChromaWhite matches the best features of a 50W low-voltage halogen lamp while offering the low-energy and long-life characteristics of LEDs. "Our ChromaWhite color tuneable technology has won industry awards and we see a significant opportunity to exploit it, as standard light engines emerge through the work of the Zhaga consortium," said Photonstar CEO James McKenzie. "We are very pleased to have secured the continued support of our shareholders at this time and will use the additional funds to support the development of ChromaWhite."

Molycorp expands rare-earth production

Molycorp is the largest producer of rare-earth oxides outside of China and is moving to increase production with China's tightening export quotas on the elements that are vital in many LED phosphors and in other lighting types including fluorescent. Molycorp had previously acquired a bit more than a 90% stake in the Estonia-based rare-earth producer AS Silmet and the facility had become known as MolyCorp Sillamäe, and now has purchased the remaining shares. Molycorp has also announced that it will accelerate the restart of its rare-earth mining operation in the desert near Mountain Pass, CA.

The MolyCorp Sillamäe facility is one of two rare-earth producers in Europe. Molycorp paid $89 million for a 90.023% stake in the company back in April. The acquisition of the remaining shares was "proportionally at the same price."

"Molycorp Sillamäe's people and their collective years of expertise in rare-earth and rare-metal production, particularly in the manufacture of high-purity products, are truly world-class," said Molycorp president and CEO Mark Smith. "We are enthusiastically exploring options for additional upgrades and production expansion at this facility."

In other Molycorp news, the company hosted media and analysts at its Mountain Pass mine last week. The company said it will accelerate its plan to restart and grow rare-earth production at the mine. The company has embarked on a $895 million construction project at the site.

The announced acceleration will add 3500 metric tons to 2012 production bringing the total to 8000 to 10,000 tons. "We are accelerating our start-up because of robust rare earth oxide markets and very favorable project economics," said Smith. "Every month that we accelerate our start-up provides that much more product to customers who need it now. This acceleration also expands the diversity of global supply, which is an increasingly urgent matter for rare earth consumers."