Silicon is amazing. We’ve all seen what those tiny silicon chips have done for computers in the past few decades – they’ve gone from mysterious machines to ubiquitous household objects capable of the stuff of dreams. Now, Bill Watkins, CEO of Bridgelux proposes silicon is about to do the same for LEDs.
Where Silicon Can Take Us
Silicon could revolutionize the solid-state lighting (SSL) industry. It has the potential to make light sources like LEDs faster, cheaper, and more functional.
Current SSL lights like LEDs have already come leaps and bounds ahead of older light sources like fragile incandescent lights, but with silicon, we could see them overcome the light socket completely, and become embedded in stairs, cabinets, and other household fixtures. They could also have added features like motion sensors or color changing abilities, so you can easily alter your home’s mood at will.
So technically speaking, why is silicon so great? Well, since the ‘60s, silicon has dominated high technology. It allows innovators many advantages in creating new digital products because it’s cheap to make, and holds structure well. You can shrink things like transistors without destroying their functionality with silicon.
Currently, light emitting diodes (the semiconductors that generate light inside SSL light bulbs and fixtures) are a rare digital technology that doesn’t rely on silicon.
Instead, LEDs are made with a material called gallium nitride (GaN), which converts electrical impulses into light. Today, GaN is mostly grown on the surfaces of wafers made of sapphire or silicon carbide. These wafers work well to create LEDs, but they’re fairly expensive to produce, and they’re small (2 to 4 inches in diameter). These smaller wafers can slow the production process.
The Miracle Of GaN-On-Silicon
Here’s where good ol’ silicon steps in an saves the day. We’ve discovered that manufacturers can grow the exact same GaN on silicon wafers, which are double the size of the more expensive wafers. Since the silicon wafers are larger, manufacturers can produce up to 36 times more product, and reduce costs while they’re at it.
Larger silicon wafers also can reduce packing and testing costs.
The Takeaway Message/Silicon Simplified
That was a lot of science.
Though it might seem complicated, silicon has the ability to simplify our lives with innovative lighting. Chips made of silicon would allow manufacturers to embed intelligence, like motion sensors, within LEDs. Not just two components in the same casing, but a single, multifunctional element.
SSL lighting would be easier to make with silicon, cost less to produce, cost less to purchase, and perform better. Easy as pie.
To learn more about these exciting innovations, check out Watkins’ original article on Forbes.com.