[Lighting Fair] Key Figures Discuss Future of LED, OLED Lights

Mar 6, 2009
Satoshi Ookubo, Nikkei Electronics
The panel discussion. Shuji Nakamura, Junji Kido and Tsutomu Ochiai from right to left.
The panel discussion. Shuji Nakamura, Junji Kido and Tsutomu Ochiai from right to left.
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A seminar titled, "LED and organic EL pave the road to the future of illumination," took place at Lighting Fair 2009, which is taking place at Tokyo Big Site from March 3 to 6, 2009.

The panel discussion was participated by Shuji Nakamura, a professor of the University of California at Santa Barbara, a developer of blue LED and a leader in the research of GaN-based light-emitting element and Junji Kido, who leads the research of the organic EL as a professor of Yamagata University Graduate School of Science and Engineering.

The international conference hall at Tokyo Big Site was crowded with listeners. The panelists discussed possibilities as well as barriers that interfere with the promotion of LED lights and organic EL lights. The panel discussion was coordinated by lighting designer Tsutomu Ochiai, head of M&O Design Office.

Concerned about the "Galapagos Effect" (isolation from the global market)

The Lighting Fair is held every two years, but this year's fair is different from previous ones in that the site is full of LED lights. The discussion was started with comments on the exhibition site by Nakamura and Kido.

"More than 90% of the exhibited items are LED lights," Nakamura said. "I was surprised because this exhibition is quite different from the previous ones."

He also said that 20 to 30 % of the exhibits were LED lights and existing light sources including fluorescent lights were the main exhibits at an exhibition of lighting devices he visited two or three years ago in the US.

Nakamura expects that luminance efficiency of white LEDs will be enhanced by at least 50% in two to three years, judging from the progress in the research and development of white LEDs.

"Then, more people will show interest in LED lights," he said. "As a person involved with LEDs, I feel very happy about that."

In a speech delivered prior to the panel discussion, he said, "It is possible that the luminance efficiency will reach 200 to 250lm/W in two to three years."

"Fluorescent lights were the main players at the exhibition four years ago," Kido said. "Then, the number of LED lights increased two years ago. And this year's show can be called an LED Fair."

He also said, "I wonder if organic EL lights can catch up with LED lights," pointing out the rapid progress in the development of LED light technologies.

In his speech delivered prior to the panel discussion, Kido said that organic EL lights have been steadily evolving in terms of luminance efficiency and lifetime and that the research and development of them are two to three years behind those of white LED lights.

While talking about the rapid evolution of LED lights, he expressed concern in respect to business model. He is worried that the Japanese LED light market might become like the Galapagos Islands, where species evolved differently.

The white LED technology certainly was born in Japan, but Japanese lighting device manufacturers are "not prepared to enter foreign markets," Kido said.

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If they focus on the Japanese market, their products will evolve independently from foreign markets, resulting in the lack of competitiveness in the global market. And, in the future, Japanese manufacturers could be forced to revamp their products in order to enter the global market. He is concerned that the "Galapagos Effect," which is frequently cited in relation to the Japanese mobile phone industry, might occur in the LED light industry as well.

Nakamura said that venture companies are showing their presence in LED light development in the US. Their development progress is fast, and their decision making by top management is fast too. The same can be said about Taiwan and China.

In Japan, LED lights are developed by "major manufacturers, and their speed of decision making is slow," he said. And he forecast that such foreign companies will catch up with Japanese manufacturers in terms of technological level before long.

In addition, Nakamura said that a variety of regulations are dragging down the development of LED lights in Japan.

"Free competition is impossible as long as the regulations exist," he said.

Not to be isolated from global market

Ochiai, a pioneer in the utilization of LED lights as well as organic EL lights, pointed out that the Japanese LED light industry has issues other than the Galapagos Effect.

He has many opportunities to see the progress of LED lights in foreign countries. Through those experiences, he had the impression that Japan may be ahead of other countries in terms of hardware, including parts and devices for LED and organic EL lights, but is not as active as the US and Europe in the development of applications for entertaining people.

Responding to the comment by Ochiai, Nakamura said, "It is perhaps because white LEDs are developed by a traditional Japanese maker and produced by traditional Japanese lighting equipment manufacturers."

Using LEDs, lighting devices become colorful and refined in design, and their colors and brightness can be easily controlled by computer software. Considering such innovativeness, it can be said that the culture surrounding LED lights is completely different from that of existing lights, he said.

Therefore, "Japan will be isolated from the global market" unless not only hardware but also software (expertise on usage) are prepared for LED lights, Nakamura said.

Meanwhile, Kido said that standardizations of hardware and software are important to prevent Japan from being isolated from the global market. Many experts say that it is very difficult to standardize them because LED lights have already been commercialized. On the other hand, for organic EL lights, which are expected to be commercialized soon, "Japan should take initiative in determining the standards," he said.