It’s a good time to be in the field, Mike Dunne told the overflow audience who filled the plenary hall at SPIE Photonics Europe in Brussels last April. Dunne, speaking then as director of the UK Science and Technology program and international leader of the HiPER project, was referring to opportunities and advances in the field of lasers.
His observation holds true for scientists, researchers, and engineers throughout photonics: This is indeed the century of the photon, when light-based technology shows the promise to solve many of the daunting challenges facing the world.
One of the most pressing of these is the need for clean, abundant energy sources, in both emerging and developed economies. According to policy scenarios developed by the World Energy Council, the demand for electricity will double within the next 40 years. As fossil fuels become scarcer and the need to decrease pollution from those sources increases, world leaders agree that new sustainable, green energy sources must be developed.
The European Union has identified finding sustainable solutions to energy demands as one of the global grand challenges. The American National Academy of Engineering looks to green photonics as well in addressing its list of grand challenges.
Driving further advances in green photonics, particularly photovoltaics and solid-state lighting (SSL), is one of the key recommendations forwarded in the recent update of the Photonics21 Strategic Research Agenda.
Arun Majunder, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), is charged with transitioning the energy infrastructure of the United States away from its current dependence on fossil fuels. He has called for a fierce urgency in dealing with this issue.
While much work remains to be done, photonics solutions now at various stages of research and development offer promise.
China and South Korea are investing heavily in SSL research and deployment. SSL is widely replacing less efficient incandescent lighting and compact fluorescent lighting in North America and Europe, and work is ongoing to improve both quality and efficiency.
An ever-expanding list of display applications in electronic devices, such as cell phones, televisions, advertising signage, automobile dashboards, and e-books, utilize energy-efficient organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs).
Through low-voltage photovoltaic systems, SSL can provide safe and reliable replacements for kerosene lamps in areas of the world that are off the grid, improving health as well as enhancing economic and educational prospects among those who live there.
Europe and Asia are making strong advances in photovoltaics. In 2008, more than 1,500 large-scale photovoltaic plants were operating in Europe, of which 800 were connected to the electricity grid.
Collaboration is key
Many of the efforts to find these energy solutions are collaborative, with partners from multiple countries as well as from industry, academic, and national labs.
SPIE supports these advances by providing opportunities to facilitate and enhance collaboration, and disseminating information throughout the scientific community.
The SPIE Optics+Photonics symposium has long been a leading forum where researchers and developers from around the world can advance their own work in photovoltaics and SSL, along with the basic science that enables a fundamental understanding of important material and device properties.
This fall, SPIE is launching a new Journal of Photonics for Energy to further stimulate communication in the field. Zakya Kafafi of the U.S. National Science Foundation, longtime chair of organic photonics conferences at Optics+Photonics, is serving as editor. The journal will be available through the SPIE Digital Library, the world’s largest collection of optics and photonics literature.
Next year, look for the Green Photonics virtual symposium at SPIE Photonics West in January, and for the new SPIE Eco-Photonics congress in Strasbourg, France, in March.
Photonics can provide the solutions to many of the century’s biggest challenges, and SPIE is here to assist you with making the connections and finding the right information to make that happen.
Ralph B. James, 2010 SPIE President
Engineering solutions for ‘Grand Challenges’
Light-based technology is a promising solution for many of the daunting challenges that face our world, and leaders across the globe have recognized photonics’ role as an important enabling technology to address sustainability issues in the 21st Century.
The National Academy of Engineering in the United States has issued 14 grand challenges that await engineering solutions. Five of them have special relevance to optics and photonics professionals:
• Make solar energy economical
• Provide energy from fusion
• Manage the nitrogen cycle
• Develop carbon sequestration methods
• Provide access to clean water
In Europe, the Lund Declaration of 2009 calls on governments and research institutions to focus on developing the enabling technologies that will meet societal challenges such as creating renewable energy.