The Carbon Trust has awarded the University of Surrey £465,000 to develop Ultra Low Energy High Brightness (ULEHB) light sources that could, it is claimed, lead to more cost-efficient energy.

The university's Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) will work on the production of prototype solid state lighting devices using carbon nano-composite materials invented there. This will, it is said, significantly reduce energy running costs.

Prof Ravi Silva, ATI director and project leader, said: 'We are not talking about developing new organic light emitting materials — we are using existing materials, but focusing on getting electron injection and hole injection coming together to provide light.

'The second aspect is that nanotubes have a thermoconductivity that is five times greater than copper, so immediately you have better thermo management. Carbon nanotubes can also conduct 1,000 times more current than copper,' he said.

This is claimed to result in light sources running at a lower voltage as charge conduction is much better and more efficient. Similarly, the quality of light will be as good as the best 100W bulb but will use a fraction of the energy.

Silva explained that the funds will enable the ATI to develop a demonstrator prototype device for manufacturers to gauge its potential. He believes a more robust demonstrator should be ready in 12-15 months. Silva said that the ATI has spoken to a number of manufacturers but declined to reveal whether they were in the UK.

The ULEHB may also offer a clean replacement and cost-efficient solution for mercury-based fluorescent lamps as well as other low-efficiency 'heat-producing' light sources.

It is expected to have wide uses in signage, displays, street and commercial lighting, offices and image projectors. the technology can also be used for low-cost solar cell production, and is sufficiently versatile to be tuned to produce attractive coloured light.

At the end of last month the ATI also secured a £450,000 contract to develop a world-first bespoke nanomaterial production tool. Called NanoGrowth, it will allow the commercial growth of nano-materials such as carbon nanotubes at low temperatures. Partly funded by the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), the project is aimed at realising the potential of nanotechnology in the south-east by enabling mass-production of nanomaterials as an affordable platform technology.