Illumination has changed very little since the incandescent bulb was invented over 100 years ago, and lighting has remained the last refuge of analog technology. Everything else--including music, photography, displays and computing--has shifted to a digital medium.The current buzz in lighting is compact fluorescent bulbs, which represent an incremental improvement in energy efficiency over incandescent bulbs. But those taking the long view on lighting favor solid-state sources, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are expected to outshine fluorescent bulbs in terms of energy efficiency and lifetime. On the downside, LEDs are constructed from expensive semiconductor alloys, such as gallium nitride, that are difficult to mass-produce either effectively or inexpensively.
This has led one solid-state start-up, Ottawa-based Group IV Semiconductor, to tap another semiconductor material: silicon. Silicon falls under Group IV on the Periodic Table (hence the company's name). It is among the most common materials on earth, and its properties are thoroughly researched thanks to its central role in the trillion-dollar electronics industry. Oddly, however, the material is not known for its ability to emit light.
Group IV claims to have found a way around this by sandwiching a layer of silicon nanocrystals, or quantum dots, in between a transparent film and a silicon substrate. When a current is applied to the structure, it energizes the electrons in the nanocrystals. As they settle back into their natural state, the pent-up energy is released as light.
The company hopes to have a market-ready product within two years. "It'll be a light bulb," explained CEO Stephen Naor. "But we're making an emitter, not the bulb itself."
A market-ready bulb, he added, will require an eventual partnership with a lighting manufacturer, which Group IV is currently exploring. In the meantime, the company recently inked a partnership with Applied Materials (nasdaq: AMAT - news - people ), a leading nano-manufacturing equipment supplier that competes with companies such as KLA-Tencor (nasdaq: KLAC - news - people ) and LAM Research (nasdaq: LRCX - news - people ) to help it develop a low-cost manufacturing process for its devices.
Group IV does not disclose its finances. But its early operations were supported by Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Business Development Bank of Canada. It was also among the first investments made by Vinod Khosla's new venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures.
Group IV completed its latest round of funding last month. It was led by Montreal-based Garage Technology Ventures and Applied Materials subsidiary Applied Ventures LLC. The company now has enough cash in pocket to complete its two-year product-development phase and prepare for a commercial launch, according to Naor.I read the other day - Link - where a company - Group IV, I believe - is about to provide Si chip light bulbs and I thought of NPI's offering via SME of a CNT version - that light bulb business is huge and with the prohibition of incandescent bulbs fast approaching, well, it made me think. Did I buy any more NNPP? No, but it is starting to look enticing - in spades.
And I wondered if these chip lights would make good BLUs or even a TV display. Haven't a clue! But like OLEDs and CNT - they are solid-state lights with no heat creation and I see recently where Sony is producing and selling OLED TVs. Can Si chip displays be next?