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SPIE Professional January 2010

OLEDs Emerge in Lighting Markets

By Lawrence Gasman

In the past year, research results have demonstrated that OLEDs can achieve performance parameters that are competitive in lighting markets. More importantly, the first OLED lighting products are appearing (although in very limited quantities) and giving lighting designers their first real opportunity to think about what OLED lighting might look like.

HB-OLEDs
Philips and Novaled are creating new ways of innovating lighting environments with HB-OLEDs. Photo courtesy of Philips

Philips, in particular, has made its first active move into marketing its Lumiblade OLED lighting products with a sort of do-it-yourself OLED lighting kit for designers. The other two of the big three lighting makers, GE and OSRAM, are also active in this space.

Lighting Options and Innovations

OLEDs are still not quite ready to go head-to-head against more conventional lighting sources. For example, the first commercial OLED lights for general lighting applications will be very expensive and will probably consist of multiple small panels, rather than the majestic large panels that OLED lighting makers have sometimes discussed in their more exuberant moments. These bigger panels are an opportunity for the future.

In the meantime, OLED lighting makers have other options. One is to focus on selling OLED lighting into niche markets such as novelties, designer lighting, or customized lighting for large buildings. This seems a reasonable way to generate early revenues, but it won't be possible to build a sizeable business this way.

Several OLED lighting firms are making it clear that OLED lighting is more than just a bulb substitute. Some believe that one way to increase early revenues for OLED lighting firms is to focus not just on the OLEDs themselves, but on the entire fixture. This gives OLED lighting firms a larger share of the value added and also more insight into the luminaire-dependent performance of OLEDs, the all-important measure from the perspective of the consumer.

There are also other ways that OLED lighting can be marketed in a unique and innovative manner. One obvious way is demonstrating that OLED lighting is potentially flexible, while incandescent lights, CFLs and HB-LEDs are not. Some prospective OLED lighting manufacturers are thinking well beyond this and imagining OLED window/light hybrids, walls that let in light during the day and shine at night.

Another innovation that has been described in the literature is OLED light panels that operate interactively, perhaps responding to a hand gesture.

All this should also be seen in the context of the fact that OLEDs are not likely to be price competitive with obvious alternatives, perhaps not initially even in terms of total cost of ownership. Therefore, OLED lighting makers need to make a strong marketing case that OLED lighting is the way to go.

The innovations described above can help make that case. After all, prices for conventional lighting products are now so low that it is unlikely that any new technology can offer an improvement based entirely on price.

OLEDs as SSL

OLEDs and high-brightness LEDs are both examples of solid-state lighting (SSL) which is getting a little help from regulators; Europe and the United States are on the verge of banning inefficient luminescent bulbs.

NanoMarkets believes it will be hard for OLEDs to dislodge HB-LEDs in applications where they are already established. But otherwise, the relationship between these two kinds of LEDs is mostly positive. At the level of consumer psychology, the success of HB-LEDs has undoubtedly opened up minds with regard to trying new SSL technologies.

OLEDs will be manufactured as panels, arrays or sheets, while HB-LEDs are classic semiconductor chips. OLEDs therefore have the characteristics of flood lights, while HB-LEDs have the characteristics of spotlights. OLEDs can, at least in theory, be fabricated as large flexible panels that can provide new kinds of aesthetic appeal for architectural and vehicular lighting and perhaps in the general illumination market too. This is something that would be hard to duplicate with HB-LEDs, although it is possible to imagine how this could happen using some kind of transfer printing.

Other attributes of OLED lighting that HB-LED lighting would find hard to match are tremendous advantages in profile, weight, and aesthetics.

Economics of OLED Lighting

How will OLEDs compete in the general lighting market?

Cost per unit will certainly have to be part of the competitive profile, and it isn't known yet how OLEDs can match up in this regard. Probably the three biggest factors that OLED lighting has going for it are wattage (wall-plug power), lifetime, and luminous efficiency.

And again, the economics of OLED lighting may not be a matter of a simple "bulb-for-bulb" comparison. A report from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy suggests that because OLEDs are area emitters, "fixtures, to the extent that they are used to reduce glare, could almost be eliminated ... if the brightness of the OLED lamp itself could be kept below 800 [nits], distributing the total lumen output over a large area."

If this suggestion turns out to be correct, it is a big plus for the economics of OLEDs since in certain cases, the cost of OLEDs would be compared not to the cost of a light bulb, but to the entire fixture. In this context, OLED panels would still have to be replaced regularly, while fixtures seldom are.

Thanks to OLEDs' diffuse emission character and slim, lightweight form, lighting makers believe that they will enable people to create adaptable lighting environments to match any mood. Lighting tiles with controllable color are an especially intriguing notion, serving as RGB (red, green, blue)-adjustable mood lighting. This vision of large, low-cost, R2R-manufactured OLED lamps enabling walls of light, of course, intrigues architects.

Obviously, the future role of OLEDs in the general illumination market is a complex situation.


Opportunities

NanoMarkets believes that by 2016, the market for OLED general and architectural lighting could reach $4.9 billion and the market for OLED backlighting about $2.1 billion.

OLEDs' opportunity in the backlighting space will depend heavily on their ability to demonstrate low power consumption. OLEDs will also have to compete against a much stronger technology: HB-LEDs.

If OLED backlights can be deployed to reduce the use of batteries in mobile electronics, they will find a ready market.

Low-end lighting markets that might find themselves invaded by OLED lighting include specialty colored lighting; interior and point-of-purchase signage; headwear and footwear lighting; and a variety of novelty/toy, decorative, safety, and holiday lighting.

NanoMarkets reports are available at www.nanomarkets.net.


DuPont Gets DOE Award For OLEDs

DuPont is receiving a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a two-year project to develop an SSL source using low-cost OLED solution-processing manufacturing techniques that can significantly reduce energy consumption.

"The DOE is pleased to support DuPont in its work to further advance the science in OLED solid-state lighting and play an important role in eventually commercializing the technology," says James Brodrick, the DOE's lighting program manager.


Lawrence Gasman 
Lawrence Gasman is principal analyst for NanoMarkets, LC. He has nearly 30 years experience analyzing the commercial potential of complex technologies and his written extensively on technology topics. 

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201001.09

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