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Gallium nitride transistors promise brighter future for LEDs

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March 16, 2014

Gallium nitride transistors enabled the compact design of this 2090 lumen retrofit LED lam...

Gallium nitride transistors enabled the compact design of this 2090 lumen retrofit LED lamp (Photo: Fraunhofer IAF)

New advances in transistor technology could make the light-emitting diode (LED) the commercial light source of the future.

Although known for long life and low energy consumption, the LED uses a DC power supply, or driver, to overcome its sensitivity to current fluctuations, and it’s the high-frequency, high-speed switching transistors in this driver that’s made the LED so costly for use in large-scale commercial applications dominated by fluorescent and incandescent lighting.

But that’s about to change. The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics in Freiburg, Germany, is developing a new, more economical means of making the high-performance gallium nitride transistors needed for the LED’s high-efficiency driver.

The team, led by Dr. Michael Kunzer, group manager at Fraunhofer IAF, has produced a gallium nitride driver with a silicon-beating efficiency of 86 percent.

As well as operating at higher currents, voltages and temperatures, gallium nitride transistors can switch at frequencies up to 10 times faster than their silicon equivalents according to the researchers. This translates to LED lamps that are cheaper, smaller and last longer.

“We have demonstrated the suitability of our gallium nitride transistors for solid-state [LED] lighting,” explains Fraunhofer’s Dr Richard Reiner. “These will improve efficiency, as well as reduce size and costs.”

LED bulbs for use in standard, domestic fittings are available today and “could overtake traditional energy-saving bulbs for the first time by 2015,” according to Fraunhofer.

With old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs banned in the EU and halogen lights facing an uncertain future, LED lighting’s best chance of filling the void is here and now. The LED, says Fraunhofer, “offers a host of advantages as the most environmentally friendly source of light – they contain no harmful substances and consume less energy than other sources.”

LEDs last much longer than their rivals too, with a lifetime of between 15,000 and 30,000 hours compared with 1000 hours for a typical incandescent bulb and 8000 hours for a fluorescent.

The revolution is already underway, according to British trade periodical Lighting, which is forecasting a 45 percent annual growth in the global LED lighting market, reaching US $42 billion – more than half of the global market – by 2019.

Source: Fraunhofer

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5 Comments

It's nobody's business what I plug into my solar house - banning incandescent bulbs outright should not be allowed.

christopher
17th March, 2014 @ 06:12 pm PDT

The valid European point of view is that an industry that produces short lived energy hogs when vastly superior alternatives are available on an industrial scale is basically screwing everybody tenfold and hence must be stopped. There may well be exemptions for niche applications but to satisfy the 'rugged individualism' of your average Idahoan is not one of them.

moreover
17th March, 2014 @ 09:59 pm PDT

Moreover, your pompacity runneth over! "Valid?" Not hardly. I have a keen desire to reduce my energy AND overall household costs and find that both LED lights and CFL lights don't last nearly as long and their amortized costs are much higher than regular bulbs. I don't use bulbs above forty watts anyway, but I have lived in this new house for a little over a year. I installed LED light in a chandelier, the bedrooms, the bathroom vanities, and all of the pendant lights in the kitchen. The can lights, dining lights and hall lights were CFL. I have changed out (returned to costco) every single LED light in the house, and they were not cheap. The first three that burned out I returned for replacement, but as the next ones failed, I simply asked for credit. The CFL light have a terrible squeal sometimes, and several of them burned out. The standard bulbs I use for reading lights haven't failed. Studies have shown that the expected life of CFLs are mostly pipe dreams, and my experience with LEDs show their life far short of what is promised. Some politician is getting paid off! Quit legislating this crap and let the market sort it out. Propane and kerosine lights are still legal--it didn't take a politician to get people to figure out electricity was a better bet. It won't take a politician to get us to switch to LEDs either. Just a manufacturer that puts out a better product!

PickleMan Pickles
17th March, 2014 @ 11:15 pm PDT

Led does last forever, look at the ones on your VCR that never went off for over 20 years. Or old CRT monitor.

Ranscapture
19th March, 2014 @ 11:58 pm PDT

This article appears to rehash the 2009 article without bringing any new information about the progress of the GaN LED. What exactly happened between 2009 and now? why did the Cambridge group fail? Please don't tell me that it's "close" again. Instead tell us exactly what the problems were in 2009 and what's been done to overcome them or at least tell us why the new team thinks they can succeed. This is another "Cold Fusion" is within view but it's always "tomorrow" and tomorrow is always 24 hours in the future. If you don't have a real story please don't repackage a five year old story and put a new bow on it. Thanks.

Aramcobrat
18th October, 2014 @ 09:28 pm PDT
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