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New applications speed LED market recovery

26 Feb 2008

Now much less reliant on mobile phone backlighting, the market for high-brightness LEDs is bouncing back from two years of sluggish growth.

Increasing penetration in products such as digital cameras, cars and notebook PC backlights helped to boost the market for packaged high-brightness (HB) LEDs by nearly 10% in 2007 to $4.6 billion. According to Bob Steele, whose annual update traditionally opens the Strategies in Light conference each February, the HB-LED market will expand by 12% in 2008 and continue to accelerate through 2012, by which time it will be worth $11.4 billion.

A staggering 39 billion units were shipped during the year, up 26% on 2006, but Steele told delegates that the HB-LED product mix is shifting significantly as new and more lucrative applications come to the fore. Although mobile applications still represent a 44% chunk of the overall market, the mobile phone sector grew only 3.3% during 2007. The market for all other mobile applications jumped 21% to $264 million, as digital camcorders, MP3 players and portable DVD players pushed back the reliance on phone handsets.

Steele expects this trend to be a strong one over the next few years, predicting that by 2012 notebook PCs will represent the biggest mobile application outside of the mobile phone. That shift is already happening, with Apple, Dell, Acer and HP introducing LED-backlit models during 2007 as LED market penetration more than quadrupled to 3.2%.

The signs and displays sector will come to dominate the overall HB-LED market by 2012, according to Steele. That will depend on LCD backlighting for TVs and PC monitors making a major transition to LED technology, but with all of the major players working on LED backlight programs, this looks likely. Korean electronics giant Samsung is setting the trend, with three types of LED-based displays on the market. It launched five new LCD TVs with LED backlights in the second half of 2007, the smallest being a 40-inch model costing $2800.

Samsung uses white LEDs produced by combining GaN-based blue emitters with red and green phosphors to achieve wide colour gamut - crucial for TV applications. Around 1000 of these are needed to illuminate a 40-inch screen, making it an expensive technology at a time when the competing cold-cathode fluorescent lamps are both improving in quality and declining in price.

In general lighting, 2007 witnessed a lot of new activity particularly in Asia. While this boosted the value of the market segment by 60% to $330 million, many luminaire products were said to offer poor performance. At the other end of the scale, Steele praised the efforts of LED Lighting Fixtures (LLF), whose technical team has now produced a warm-white LED lamp with an efficacy of 113 lm/W. Although not yet commercial, this should be a sign of things to come. Steele revealed that LLF uses a unique approach to create white light, mixing a phosphor-converted yellow-green LED emitter with light direct from red emitters.

By contrast, the automotive market for LEDs is showing a much more gradual and somewhat stuttering shift to solid-state technology. Despite white LED headlamps now beginning to appear in series production, some lighting functions have switched away from LEDs back to incandescent lamps, most notably the latest version of Honda's hugely popular Accord.

Diffraction InternationalDATARAY INC.Nanoscribe GmbHSPECTROGON ABPhotonTec Berlin GmbHScitec Instruments LtdDelta Optical Thin Film A/S
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