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European Commission boost for photonics

05 Dec 2006

With the restructuring of the EU's 7th Framework Programme (FP7), the photonics sector has been given improved recognition of its importance.

The European Commission (EC) plans to create a new unit dedicated to photonics-related industries and will also increase funding for enabling technologies by more than 40% (€90 million) in 2007/8.

These were just two of the positive results that the Photonics21 European Technology Platform announced this week (December 5) at its annual gathering in Brussels.

Thierry van der Pyl is to head the [EC's] new Photonics unit from January 2007. "I would like to see public-private partnerships working in research," said Pyl at the meeting. "Funding is not only a matter between the EU and research stakeholders, it also concerns the member states. A comprehensive strategy in Europe is the key."

Rosalie Zobel, Director of DG Information Society of the European Commission, called on Photonics21 to update the strategic research agenda and provide more detail. She underlined the importance of photonics as a business area and said the EU and the optics community should maintain its competitiveness with the US and Asia.

Since its constitution in December 2005, Photonics21 has established a firm foundation for the further development of photonics across Europe. The topic has been taken up by eight units within the Directorate-General for Research and been incorporated in areas of significant future potential such as the life sciences and manufacturing technology.

In view of the concerted investment strategy being pursued by rival markets in the USA and Asia, the members of Photonics21 have warned that a fragmented approach by the European research community would weaken Europe's ability to compete. Earlier in 2006 (see related story), Photonics21 members announced that they would be increasing their own research spending by €330 million per year.

"We are very pleased with the results of our work so far," said Alexander von Witzleben, president of Photonics21 and chairman of Jenoptik. "The boost being given to this industry by the EU represents a big step forward and it will allow photonics-related developments to be firmly anchored in the 7th Framework Program. The first essential foundations have been laid, namely a photonics community at European level and the appropriate funding resources. The next step is to make use of this newly established basis in order to achieve our planned objectives on a reasonable time scale."

"The role of photonics in some member states still has considerable potential to grow. Therefore, in 2007, it will be crucial to the community to set up a "mirror group" composed of country representatives from their respective photonics industries.

The association says that the importance of photonics is underlined by the leverage it exercises on other sectors such as the automotive industry, medical engineering, and information and communication technology.

While over 200,000 jobs throughout Europe are directly anchored in photonics - two thirds of them in SMEs - two million jobs in the manufacturing industry and their dependents rely on these technologies. The productivity and competitiveness of these sectors hinge on the research findings and practical application of photonics.

Lebby addresses Photonics21 conference

Michael Lebby, President and CEO of the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA), gave the keynote address at the Photonics 21 Conference. His address included data from the recently-published OIDA Global Optoelectronic Industry Market Report and Forecast and provided an American perspective on Federal funding of these technologies.

"We are delighted to provide our perspective on the industry to the Commission," said Lebby. "The vibrancy and growth of the markets is being led in several segments by European activity." His talk highlighted several key areas of market development including:

• OIDA estimates that federal funding of Optoelectronics is approximately $180 million, less than 0.4% of Federal R&D dollars. This compares to €300 million over the course of the Photonics 21 platform.

• Liquid crystal displays account for more than 70% of the optical components industry - with continuing growth expected.

• Solar cells and display modules exhibited the strongest segment growth in 2005 (24% and 19% respectively).

• Within sources and detectors, image sensors and HBLEDs now own 60% of the global optoelectronics sources and detectors market.

• 405nm blue laser market is slower than expected due to technical difficulties with laser specifications and alignment tolerance.

• HBLEDs suffered price erosion in mobile handsets; volumes increased significantly but average prices were down.

• The emergence of the quad-play: Carriers and multiple system operators realizing that wireless will be a critical component in servicing their customer base.

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