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Photonics21 unites the future of European photonics

04 Sep 2008

Photonics21 is a voluntary association of photonics professionals that has grown rapidly from a handful of participants to over 1000 members. Marie Freebody finds out more from the president of Photonics21 and CEO of OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, Martin Goetzeler.

Photonics21 is an initiative that was founded in December 2005, with the strong backing of European Commissioner Viviane Reding. The organization is a so-called European Technology Platform, which aims to bring together European photonics professionals from academia, industry and politics in order to establish a research and development strategy. Today, Photonics21 has more than 1000 members, half of which are from industry (of which 75% are SMEs) and the other half are from academic institutions.

Why was a European platform such as Photonics21 needed?
We expect the 21st century to become the century of photonics, which means that it is very important to bring the photonics community together. Until Photonics21, there was no platform combining all photonics companies throughout Europe.

Our most important task is a continuous knowledge transfer between all members and to agree on a research agenda. We align the common efforts of academia and industry to drive new applications and work as an advisory body to the EC to prioritize photonics research activities.

Photonics is such a broad field, ranging from lighting, manufacturing, medical, optics and security, and we have many leaders in these areas here in Europe. In a photonics study, which we carried out at the end of 2007 (see box), we showed that the photonics market was valued at €230 bn in 2005. Of this, Europe makes up close to 20%, with particular strengths in areas such as lighting, medical technology and manufacturing. There is a great need to bundle this European know-how in order to remain a strong competitor and move ahead of other regions. This is something that Photonics21 supports and drives.

How does Photonics21 operate?
In 2006, Photonics21 developed its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), a roadmap for R&D that defined the key research themes for photonics in the 7th Framework Programme (FP7). The SRA identified seven key areas of focus to be addressed by seven working groups: information and communication; industrial manufacturing; life sciences and health; lighting and displays; research, education and training; optical components and systems; security, metrology and sensors.

With its SRA, Photonics21 hopes to transform European research into leading-edge technologies. The working groups meet two or three times a year in order to ensure that the right strategies are in place for each of the technologies. We also have an executive board that meets annually to evaluate the results of the working groups and define the R&D priorities for EC programmes. The executive board includes the president of Photonics21, two vice-presidents and the chairs of the working group. We also have a 70-strong board of stakeholders composed of photonics professionals from industry and academia. The board of stakeholders is the main decision-making body and is responsible for the strategic action items of the platform.

What major markets are emerging?
Industrial manufacturing, lighting and projection systems, biophotonics, and optical networks are the major markets which we expect to significantly improve in the next 10 years. These key areas are reflected in our working groups and in projects that Photonics21 members are facilitating together with the EC. For example, the Delight project, which is due to begin in September, aims to develop low-cost technologies for fabricating high-performance telecommunications lasers. This is a collaborative project combining numerous European universities, headed up by the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland.

As a follow-up to the OLLA project, OLED100.eu intends to build 1 m2 OLEDs at a cost of €100 per m2 or lower. The OLEDs are to exhibit a power efficiency of 100 lm/W and a lifetime of 100 000 h. The EU is contributing $20 m (€13.5 m) to this project, which is also due to begin in September.

The Photonics4Life project kicked off in May and aims to link the expertise of research institutes with SMEs and large companies to strengthen Europe's economic competitiveness worldwide.

Finally, the GIGAWAM (Gigabit access passive optical network using wavelength division multiplexing) project focuses on developing fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology. The project aims to implement WDM-PON (wavelength division multiplexed passive optical network) as the new FTTH technology and satisfy the coming bandwidth requirements with a point-to-point architecture.

Has the mandate of Photonics21 changed since its inception?
I would say that the expectation of Photonics21 is growing consistently as the number of stakeholders increases. The rising membership is a clear sign that the first steps we took in conducting a study of the market and launching the SRA has triggered much interest not just within industry, but also in the research community. Our goal to encourage European collaboration between universities, research institutions, industry and politics remains the same.

Who can join Photonics21 and are you looking for more members?
Membership is open to all who are committed to photonics. The more active members we have, the stronger the platform. Anybody who is interested in working in the photonics field is welcome. We are always happy to accept more members – there is no limit. The more members we have, the more ideas we will generate and opportunities we will identify. It will also help us to increase our knowledge of the market. Naturally, with a greater number of members, it becomes more of a challenge to ensure that everyone benefits at the right level – but I believe that we can satisfy everyone sufficiently.

Are there countries in which you would like to grow your relationship?
Photonics21 is trying to enhance the integration of central and eastern European countries by establishing national technology platforms in these areas. Eastern Europe is very interesting in terms of research and many of the larger photonics companies that are based in western Europe also have offices there. Outside of Europe we will continue to foster newly forged contacts with Russia.

How does Photonics21 fit in with other European platforms?
I believe that we fit in perfectly. There is surely sometimes an overlap in the technologies and thus we have established good cooperation with other European Technology Platforms such as in manufacture or nanomedicine. Many national platforms have been launched as a result of Photonics21, for example the Fotonica21 in Spain, Italy, Greece and Slovenia. These national activities are growing faster and help to spread ideas further.

What are the next major goals?
Photonics21 aims to drive photonics further by investing in education and recently degree programmes in two universities in Germany were launched. For instance, Osram is sponsoring an Optics in Science and Technology masters degree at the University of Jena, and an Optics and Photonics degree in Karlsruhe. Both degrees are scheduled to begin this autumn and will receive €1.7 m from industry and the German government over three years. Photonics Master Programmes already exist or are on the way in many other European countries like France, Sweden and Belgium.

We are also working closely with the EC on the issue of "Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and energy efficiency". We are discussing how much can be saved with energy-efficient lighting and what other measures we should be taking other than funding research projects. Example demonstrations of advanced LED technology will be essential to prove the benefits, create more visibility and facilitate market penetration. In June, I met with Viviane Reding to discuss the progress that Photonics21 has made in the last two years and how photonics can help to achieve an energy saving of 20% by 2020. We will also be trying to increase our profile with the ICT community at its forum in November.

Drafts for the work programmes have been compiled for FP7 of the EC – details will be released at the end of the year. Our ultimate goal is to establish Europe as a leader in developing and deploying technologies.

• This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Optics & Laser Europe magazine.

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