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Quantum Dots Enhance LED Lighting


Tiny semiconductor crystals could produce better colors for lighting and computer displays

By NEIL SAVAGE / DECEMBER 2009

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Photo: QD Vision

9 December 2009The next big thing in solid-state lighting may be exceedingly tinythe quantum dot. Researchers from around the world gathered at the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston last week to discuss the progress they're making in using quantum dots to enhance the color and efficiency of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Quantum dots are nanometer-size bits of semiconductor material, such as cadmium selenide, that fluoresce when excited by photons or electrons. By choosing a certain material and a certain size,

researchers can precisely tune the wavelength of light emitted. In general, a dot that's 2 nanometers in diameter emits blue light, a 4-nm dot emits green, and a 6-nm dot emits red. Seth Coe-Sullivan, chief technology officer of QD Vision, a Watertown, Mass., start-up working on quantum dots for use in lighting and displays, says the advantage of quantum dots lies in the ability to pick a desired color without losing efficiency. Today's white-light LEDs consist of a blue-emitting LED coated with a phosphor that is excited by the LED and emits a yellow or orange light. The combination of blue and yellow produces a cold white light lacking in red photons, so human skin, among other things, looks unnatural under it. There are phosphors that can produce color closer to that of an incandescent light, but they come with a 30 percent drop-off in energy efficiency. By contrast, Coe-Sullivan says, QD Vision has produced an optic coated with a thin film of quantum dots and fits over a blue LED lamp. With the optic, the lamp produces light with a color temperature of 2700 kelvinsabout the same as that of an incandescent bulb. It has a color-rendering index (a measure of how "natural" colors appear under it) of 90, compared with 95 for an incandescent bulb and less than 75 for most white LEDs. It also produces 65 lumens per watt, a vast improvement over the 15 lm/W of incandescent bulbs and on par with compact fluorescent bulbs. QD Vision has started shipping that optic to two lighting manufacturers; the lamps should be on store shelves by January. "The main benefit of the quantum dot is you're able to get a really efficient lightbulb with a high-quality color rendering index," says Vladimir Bulovic, a professor of electrical engineering and leader of the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory at MIT. He says the QD Vision optic represents the first practical optoelectronic device based on this technology. Coe-Sullivan did his Ph.D. work in Bulovic's lab, and Bulovic is a founder of QD Vision.

Photo: QD Vision

Bulovic and other researchers are working on creating quantum-dot LEDs that are electrically pumped, thus eliminating the need for a gallium-nitride LED as a photon source. But the electroluminescent LEDs produced so far in laboratories are still in their early stages. To make such devices, researchers closely pack the quantum dots in an organic thin film that acts as a transport layer for electrons. But doing so reduces the luminescent efficiency of the dots from more than 90 percent to about 15 percent. The first practical use of electrically pumped quantum-dot LEDs will likely be in displays, such as computer monitors, where Bulovic says they'll provide more saturated color than organic LEDs do but still

retain that technology's ease of manufacturing and flexibility. Electrically pumped quantum-dot solid-state lighting will take longer, because reaching the brightness required for general illumination requires driving the LEDs at higher currents, which reduces their lifetime. But Bulovic is sure that researchers will eventually reach that goal. One way of extending the lifetime would be to replace some of the organic materials in the LEDs with metal oxides or chalcogenides, which won't degrade with exposure to air and moisture.

Source: Bulovic lab

Color Clash

Stripes of quantum dots are electrically pumped to emit light. Bulovic isn't worried about improving the efficiency. It's just a matter of spending the time to learn more about the chemistry, the size and shape distribution, and other technical details about quantum dots. "There is nothing impossible about making extremely long-lived, very bright, very stable quantum-dot LEDs in the long run," he says. "It's just going to take a few years to get there." About the Author Neil Savage writes about science and technology from Lowell, Mass. In November 2009, he reported advances in developing high-density stackable phase-change memory.
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ETHAN ALLEN 05.27.2010 We specialize in spectacular outdoor residential and commercial lighting/a> COMMERCIAL LED LIGHTING FIXTURES 01.01.2010 I THINK THE COMBINATION OF BLUE AND YELLOW PRODUCES A COLD WHITE LIGHT LACKING IN RED PHOTONS, SO HUMAN SKIN, AMONG OTHER THINGS, LOOKS UNNATURAL UNDER IT. GREG DAVIS 12.19.2009 CFL BULBS MAKE MY HOUSE LOOK UGLY. NOT THAT THE COLOR IS BAD (IT IS), NOR THAT THINGS LOOK WEIRD (THEY DO). SOMETHING ABOUT THE LIGHT ON CFL BULBS HIGHLIGHTS THE EDGES OF DEFECTS ON DRYWALL: LIKE NAIL-POPS OR MEDIOCRE SPACKLE JOBS, OR PAINT GLOBS. HOPEFULLY THESE LEDS WILL AVOID THAT. PHILLIP M. FELDMAN 12.10.2009 WHY DO DOTS HAVING A DIAMETER OF 2 NM PRODUCE BLUE LIGHT? 2 NM IS NOWHERE NEAR THE WAVELENGTH OF BLUE. GARY WINTERS 12.10.2009 I AM ALREADY MISSING THE WARM GLOW OF INCANDESCENTS. HALOGENS SEEM BETTER THAN CFL'S IN COLOR RENDITION. SODIUM BULBS ARE STERILE AND BIZARRE. I DON'T WANT MY HOUSE TURNED INTO AN INDUSTRIAL ENVIRONMENT. I WARMLY WELCOME QD VISION'S NEW LINE OF LIGHTING THAT IS EYE-FRIENDLY. GREAT NEWS ON THE ARCHITECTURE FRONT! THEN QD CAN TACKLE THE SOON TO BE DISPLACED DIMMER. I WANT WARM, EYE-FRIENDLY LIGHT AND I WANT IT DIM-ABLE. CHARLES R. SULLIVAN 12.10.2009 IT'S VERY IMPRESSIVE TO PRODUCE CRI OF 90 AT A LOW COLOR TEMPERATURE, WITH 65 LM/W FROM AN LED. BUT THAT'S NOT DOUBLE THE EFFICACY OF A CFL. THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENT FOR A >15 W CFL TO GET AN ENERGY STAR DESIGNATION IS 65 LM/W, AND THE ENERGY STAR PRODUCT LISTING INCLUDES OVER 1000 PRODUCTS THAT EXCEED 65 LM/W.

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The Zero-Zero Hero David Kaneda's San Jose office building will use zero electricity, produce zero carbon dioxide, and still be a comfortable workplace
BY TEKLA S. PERRY / SEPTEMBER 2007

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Photo: Mike Kahn/Green Stock Media

The skylights are sometimes supplemented with efficient fluorescent lights. It may be a first: an office building with a net electricity use of zero or less, that burns no fossil fuels for heating and produces no greenhouse gas, and that makes the people working there at least as comfortable as those in conventionally heated and cooled buildings. The building, in San Jose, Calif., opens in October, and if all goes according to plan, it will raise the bar for designers of energy-efficient buildings worldwide. Though other so-called z-squared buildings exist, they are highway rest stops, nature centers, and event locations, not office structures with computers and printers and cubicles full of employees.

Weve hoisted the flag and said were the first, says David Kaneda. No one yet has stepped forward to question that. He owns the San Jose building, and his Santa Clara, Calif.based firm, Integrated Design Associates (IDeAs), did the electrical and lighting design and will occupy the ground floor.

Photo: Tekla Perry

Power David Kaneda shows off the solar panels and skylights of his new building. The building was once a windowless bank, designed in the 1960s when banks were meant to be riot-proof concrete bunkers. Today, with the remodeling nearly completed, it is modern art: the exterior is broken up with rows of windows and swaths of blue and gray paint, while solar panels adorn the roof, with skylights pushing up in between. Kaneda embarked on the project of renovating the old bank in September 2005, with the goal of creating an environmentally friendly building that could earn a Platinum ratingthe highest from the U.S. Green Building Council, an association of builders in Washington, D.C. At that time, global climate change was not in the forefront of public consciousness, and the councils standards were not much in the public eye. So Kaneda thought he was being very forwardthinking when he proposed to renovate the bank to meet the councils specifications for building materials, water use, indoor air quality, andmost importantenergy use. But when Kaneda hired architect Scott Shell, from EHDD Architecture, in San Francisco, to work on the project, Shell went even further, suggesting they design a building with no net electricity usage and no carbon dioxide emissions. It was a shock to me when he said that, Kaneda recalls. He didnt know of any commercial buildings that had gone that far.

The idea appealed to Kaneda, and the two decided they would disconnect the natural gas pipes running to the building and find heating alternatives. They would stay on the electric grid but install enough photoelectric panels to cover the entire energy loadabout 30 kilowatts, generating more electricity than the building uses during the day but pulling a small amount off the grid at night. Since theyd be limited by the size of the roof, theyd have to be clever about energy use. To cut down on energy use, youve got three areas to address, Kaneda says, lighting, heating and cooling, and plug loadthat is, the computers, printers, microwave ovens, and other things you plug into the wall. To reduce the amount of energy used for lighting, Kanedas builders sawed through the concrete perimeter of the building to install windows and skylights. Special window glass lets visible light through but blocks infrared and ultraviolet light, keeping the office cool. An overhang on the south side shades the windows from direct sun; on the east side, electrochromic glass controlled by a sensor darkens the windows when sun hits them directly and makes them transparent the rest of the day. Because the ceilings are high, the skylights bathe much of the office space in a diffuse light; in areas where the skylight illumination is too strong, Kaneda is experimenting with different types of diffusers. The building also uses low-energy fluorescent bulbs, some of which are hooked up to switched circuits, while others are on dimmers. Kaneda wasnt able to get any good data on which method is more energy efficient, so he plans to collect his own data, which will be invaluable to others embarking on similar projects. For heating and cooling, Kaneda chose a geothermal heat pump, which takes advantage of the fact that at some point below the surface, the ground remains a constant 10 C all year round. In Northern California, this point is only about 1.8 meters below ground level; Kaneda installed water pipes that snake throughout the property, an area that will eventually have a landscaped courtyard and a bocce court. When the water flows into the building, it goes through a heat exchanger that collects the heat from the ground in winter and pulls heat out of the building in summer. Designers of energy-efficient buildings often stop at this point, but for Kaneda, once the first two areas of energy use had been addressed, the amount of energy allocated to computers and other plug-in devices looked huge. All the appliances he purchased for the common room meet the U.S. Department of Energy efficiency goals, and all his employees computers will have LCD screens, the lowest-power option. Light and motion sensors will turn on electric lights when daylight gives way to evening and employees are still working, but employees will be able to adjust their personal light levels from their desktop computers. Arming the building security system, which is supposed to happen when the last person leaves for the night, will automatically cut off the power-sucking printersKanedas own large-format printer, the worst power vampire, draws 40 watts in standby mode. Kaneda wont know for sure just how efficient the building will be until he and other tenants yet to be determinedmove in later this fall, but hes confident hell be putting more energy into the grid than he takes out. Though he has yet to set a policy for tenants, he hopes to attract companies that are equally concerned about the environment. If Kaneda wins the Green Building Councils approval, his will be among the few Platinum buildings in Northern California (only about 40 exist in the United States as a whole). But whether his will truly be a z-squared building is a matter of debate, since no official definition exists.

Photo: Mike Kahn/Green Stock Media Meanwhile, water in underground pipes keeps things cool. Is simply producing more energy than a building consumes enough to call it z''squared? Or does all the energy consumed need to be green energy? If all energy consumed has to be green, how is this guaranteed? Is buying green power from the utility company enough? This may mean only that it purchases enough green energy to cover users needs but that it doesnt send that actual energy to them. Or would it be better to buy carbon credits to offset any electricity imported from the grid, based on the utilitys average greenhouse-gas emissions per kilowatt generated? Paul A. Torcellini, a senior engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., notes that in real life some of the electricity you buy is bound to have been generated at the cost of greenhouse-gas emissions. Torcellini points out that the building stock in the United States is growing faster than builders are deploying energy-efficiency technology. As a result, with buildings accounting for just about 18 percent of the countrys energy consumption, the absolute amount of energy used is increasing one-and-a-half percent per year. So we either need to save more or build more power plants, he says. Kaneda is already developing another z-squared structure, this one for the La Jolla, Calif., research building of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a biotech firm based in Rockville, Md., that is seeking to create artificial life and use genomics to solve a wide array of pressing global problems. With the name of the famed genome pioneer, J. Craig Venter, over the door, that building will get a lot of notice, even if the former San Jose bank remains known only to tech insiders.