GE overcomes hurdle in race or OLED lighting

GE Global Research claims to have made a major breakthrough in OLED lighting technology by overcoming fault tolerance in large area devices.

GE Global Research has announced what it describes as a major breakthrough in a new lighting technology. The breakthrough may facilitate more energy efficiency and revolutionise lighting design.

GE’s new technology is based on Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs), which are thin sheets of plastic-like material that emit light when powered by electricity.

While the technology is still five to ten years away from commercialisation, the GE research team recently overcame fault tolerance in large area devices, which is one of the significant technical hurdles in OLED technology.

The latest development, which was partially funded by a research contract from the US Department of Energy, is a major step forward in creating this new form of solid-state lighting.

OLEDs are a form of solid-state lighting, an alternative to traditional LEDs composed of inorganic materials. According to GE Global Research, OLEDs have the potential to be made in an inexpensive, roll-to-roll manufacturing process. The vision of the GE program is to create sheets of paper-thin lighting devices that can be applied to surfaces similar to wallpapering.

One of the major technological challenges is fault tolerance, the short-circuiting of the unit in large area devices. In this latest development, GE’s researchers divided the large surface area into separate smaller sections, with criss-cross connections between anodes and cathodes.

In the resulting serial circuit, if a short circuit occurs in a section it won’t affect the rest of the device. By contrast, earlier approaches to OLEDs featured a design more like a parallel circuit, in which a short-circuit at any point would cause the whole device to fail or ‘black-out.’ The increase in fault tolerance is an important proof-of-concept, which can lead to large-scale OLED devices.

‘The vision of this research project is to create sheets of plastic which would be used to form thin, mechanically flexible, flat lighting panels,’ said Anil Duggal, manager of GE’s light energy conversion program, ‘In only three or four years, OLEDs could be used for specialty applications, such as lights within a car, and, in about 10 years, it could compete with fluorescent lighting.’

Although the incandescent light bulb has been in use for more than a century, OLED technology is only about a decade old, and, to date, most development has concentrated on flat panel displays such as LCD laptop screens, car radio displays or cell phones. However, OLED devices could potentially outperform conventional lighting technologies.

Serious scientific challenges remain though, such as increasing the overall surface area, energy efficiency, flexibility of the material, developing a roll-to-roll manufacturing process, as well as extending the operative lifespan of OLED devices.

Duggal added: ‘A highly efficient, mechanically flexible OLED lighting product that can be wrapped around objects would save energy and could revolutionise the way that we think about lighting.’