The US Department of Energy has again awarded SSL-industry grants to small businesses focused on improving performance or streamlining manufacturing in the LED and OLED sectors.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science has announced four new Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and one new Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant in the solid-state lighting (SSL) sector. The grants are intended to help the industry reach performance and cost goals documented in the latest version of the DOE's R&D Plan for OLED and LED sources. The new grants in the Fiscal Year (FY17) Phase 1 Release 1 program go to Pixelligent Technologies, Lumisyn, OLEDWorks, SC Solutions, and MicroLink Devices.
Two of the SBIR grants are in the OLED area. Pixelligent will work on improving light extraction in OLED products. Specifically, the company plans to enhance extraction by integrating a high-refractive-index extraction layer in the OLED material stack to compensate for mismatches in refractive indices between active, electrical, and substrate layers. The company says the technique will better control light output, deliver a desired look in the off state, increase efficacy, and improve product lifetime.
OLEDWorks, meanwhile, will focus on cost reduction in the manufacturing process. The company hopes to reduce or eliminate the mask steps required to pattern electrical layers in the manufacturing process through a new substrate and encapsulation process. During the funded research, the company hopes to accomplish a "proof-of-principle" for the technique that could lower cost and make OLEDs more attractive for general illumination applications.
There were also two SBIR grants focused on LEDs. Lumisyn will focus on high-performance nanocrystals in silicones. Specifically, the company will work on silicone films that have downconverter properties for use with blue LEDs to produce white light. Presumably, such films would be used in place of traditional phosphor converters. Lumisyn said the technique could yield better efficacy and also higher-quality light output with inherently high color rendering.
SC Solutions, meanwhile, is working on new heating techniques in MOCVD (metal-organic chemical-vapor deposition) reactors that can improve within-wafer temperature uniformity during the LED epitaxial process. SC Solutions said the technique could reduce the need to bin LEDs through more uniform performance, and ultimately lower the cost of SSL products. Radiant heat will be delivered from above the wafer with a mask that shapes the heat flux profile.
The one new STTR grant is in the LED area and awarded to MicroLink Devices. The company will attempt to improve the performance of phosphide-based red and amber LEDs through the integration of what they call an "advantageous electron cladding layer." The advantage of the approach is that it's presumably compatible with existing LED designs and manufacturing processes. The result could be better performance in color-mixing SSL products where red and amber LEDs still trail the efficiency of blue LEDs.
The DOE has regularly awarded funding to companies big and small in multiple programs including SBIR-STTR and through the SSL Advanced Technology program. For example, the agency awarded $10.5 million to nine companies in the Advanced SSL Technology program last summer. The recipients of those awards also contribute significant R&D funds to the projects. The SBIR-STTR grants have a smaller scope such as FY15 projects on light extraction via phosphor conversion and OLED manufacturing.