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Affordable GaN LEDs target office, home lighting

14 Oct 2014

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"When we launched CamGaN, we were contacted by companies all over the world wanting to utilise the technology," said Humphreys. "The research has been funded by government money through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and it was important to us that this research be exploited here in the U.K."

Meanwhile, the researchers are continuing their work with what Humphreys describes as a "truly remarkable" material. A $1.6 million growth facility funded by the EPSRC and made by AIXTRON Ltd, a long-term collaborator of Humphreys' research group, has been installed in Cambridge, where the researchers are adjusting minute aspects of the growth process to improve the efficiency of light emission.

The benefits of increased efficiency could go far beyond home lighting, and the researchers are now looking at applications that extend from biomedicine to power electronics.

In collaboration with the University of Manchester, they plan to build tiny LED devices that can be implanted by keyhole surgery in cancer patients being treated with radiotherapy. "If a patient moves while an X-ray or proton beam is directed at their tumour, then they risk healthy tissue being damaged," explained Humphreys. "A LED attached to a sensor would detect movement at the site of the tumour in order to redirect the beam."

Even tinier devices are being investigated as a means of firing single neurons in the brain. Working with U.S. researchers involved in the Brain Activity Map Project, a flagship initiative of the Obama administration, the researchers will supply LEDs that can be implanted in the brain with the goal of mapping the activity of every neuron, to understand how the brain works both in health and disease.

Water purification is another area where LEDs could benefit the health of millions. "Life on earth has developed in the absence of deep UV and so we can kill bacteria and viruses by damaging their DNA with deep UV light," he said. The idea is to have a ring of LEDs powered by solar cells on the inside of water pipes.

Collaborative projects with the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde are also investigating GaN transistors as power electronics in devices that manage electrical energy and LEDs as light-based Wi-Fi (so-called Li-Fi). Humphreys believes that the day will arrive when GaN devices will light our homes, power our mobile phones, laptops, cars and aircraft engines, and connect us wirelessly to information transmitted from traffic lights and street lights.

"In addition to the $3.2 billion per year in electricity savings from GaN LEDs, GaN transistors could help the UK save $1.6 billion from power electronics and 15 to 20 per cent in carbon emissions, and GaN UV LEDs could save millions of lives," said Humphreys.

Plessey, in the meantime, is focusing on product improvement and reduction in cost.

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