Salivating over the prospect of OLED (organic light emitting diode) TVs, such as the 11-inch XEL-1 Sony is about to introduce in Japan? Sure, we’re likely to see even bigger OLED TVs in the next year or two. But the biggest and best application for OLED technology may be in lighting.
OLED lighting has the potential of energy efficiency and in flat form factors that can be used in a variety of ways. OLED lighting is so promising that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded a $750,000 research grant to OLED technology company Universal Display Corporation, as part of the DOE’s solid-state lighting program, which is hurling a lot of dough at LED development.
“The potential to get to really good power efficiencies for lighting is one of the things that have made the DOE excited by OLED lighting,” says Janice Mahon, UDC’s vice president of technology commercialization. “There has been steady progress in white OLED lighting. Once it was thought you might get to 35 to 40 lumens per watt [comparable to compact fluorescent lighting]. Now it’s thought we can get to 150 to 200 lumens per watt.” Traditional inefficient incandescent bulbs, by contrast, generate only about 10 to 20 lumens per watt.
The quality of light, too, looks to be a major selling point for OLED. While many don’t like the color of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), LED and OLED should be able to generate warm or cool white light more like incandescent lighting. Both technologies also hold the promise of allowing you to adjust the color or tone of your lighting. “The quality of light is going to be very appealing, the efficiency is going to be very compelling, and the form factor is going to be very appealing,” says Mahon. “It could be a lighting tile, in backsplashes in the kitchen, shelving and appliances, walls, lighting tiles in a shower…”
Some look to a near future when LEDs will be used for task lighting, while OLEDs will be used for more diffuse purposes, perhaps in ceilings and walls. OLEDs can be more flexible than LEDs, though—and in more ways than one. While LEDs are mounted on silicon wafers, OLEDs can be coated on a variety of surfaces. OLEDs today use glass substrates, but flexible and transparent OLEDs are under development.
“A few years ago, people thought we were crazy to try to do this on something flexible like plastic, but it’s becoming a reality now,” Mahon says.
So when we will see OLED lighting in the home? “In the next three to five years, we will see products in the 40-to-60-lumens per watt range, or 40 to 100 [lumens per watt] for all I know,” Mahon says. “I believe it will start with architectural designs, high-end kitchens and bathrooms and other niches. It’s a matter of getting manufacturing capacity into place.”
And it’s a matter of getting costs down, which Mahon says is the toughest hurdle facing OLED lighting. “It will take getting some pretty hefty volumes to compete with incandescent bulbs. Many folks believe there are a wide variety of niche markets that OLED will comfortably fit into to get to economies of scale,” she says. “I have heard there are some niche applications that would pay that premium price points [associated with OLED displays] today. That’s a couple hundred [dollars] a square foot in displays, but lighting wants to get down to dollars per square foot.”
To read more about OLED lighting and its potential, see OLED Lighting in Homes.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates