QD Vision’s Quantum Dots Warm Up the Market for LED Lighting

Everyone knows that traditional incandescent lamps are inefficient and energy-wasting. But LEDs, one of the technologies vying to take their place, produce light that feels harsh and cold by comparison, leading many customers to shy away from them.

Watertown, MA-based QD Vision thinks it can use its “quantum dot” technology to solve both problems—energy waste and LEDs’ unpleasant color—and it’s about to get a chance to test that belief in the marketplace.

Quantum dots are tiny crystals of semiconductor material that emit light when excited by light or electricity. QD Vision, a six-year-old MIT spinoff, has come up with a way to apply thin films containing the quantum dots to the external faces of conventional LEDs. That converts the harsh LED light into something warmer and more pleasing, similar to the light produced by incandescent bulbs, without sacrificing the high energy efficiency typical of LEDs.

Vials containing QD Vision semiconductor crystalsAccording to QD Vision, LEDs processed with quantum dots are roughly six times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, and over three times more efficient than halogen lamps with comparable color quality. Converting all incandescent lighting in the U.S. to LED lighting could reduce the nation’s total electrical usage for lighting by a third, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

A sign that QD Vision’s technology is gaining traction appeared this month when Charlotte, NC-based LED manufacturer Nexxus Lighting (NASDAQ: NEXS) announced initial production and shipment of its new replacement light bulbs, which use QD Vision’s quantum dot films. Nexxus says its so-called Array Quantum LED bulb fits directly into 400 million lighting fixtures already in place in the U.S. It’s the first time QD Vision’s quantum dots have turned up in a commercial product.

“Our Quantum Light optic is the first product that lets manufacturers make warmer-colored, high-efficiency LED lamps,” QD Vision president and CEO Dan Button said in a statement. “These features are vital to their widespread adoption.”

Xconomy first profiled QD Vision in April 2008. While there are a number of companies around the globe developing quantum dot technology, the Watertown startup is the first to apply them commercially, according to Button.

The Nexxus Lighting deal dates back to December 2008, when Button met Nexxus CEO Mike Bauer at a conference. The two began discussing how quantum dots could enhance the performance of LEDs. The companies eventually agreeed to a strategic alliance.

QD Vision was founded in 2004 by a team of researchers from MIT. Co-founder Seth Coe-Sullivan, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis for the electrical engineering department on incorporating quantum dots into LED structures, is the startup’s chief technology officer. Co-founder Vladimir Bulovic, an MIT professor, is a scientific advisor to the company, as is another MIT researcher, Moungi Bawendi.

QD Vision has secured nine patents and has more than 120 patent applications pending. The Nexxus Lighting launch is only the first of many, according to Button. “We are collaborating with most major manufactures of LED-based lamps and fixtures, and related product launches are expected to begin in 2010,” he tells Xconomy.

The colors emitted by quantum dots depend on the sizes of the crystals. The smallest dots emit blue light, and the largest red.

Aside from home or commercial lighting, QD Vision says the technology could be used to lower the cost and improve the efficiency of liquid-crystal displays like those in TVs and cell phones, which typically use LED backlights. LCD screens using quantum-dot-enhanced LED backlights use 30 percent less power and require 30 percent fewer LEDs, according to the company. Button says QD Vision is working with consumer electronics companies and expects that TVs, laptops, and handsets using the technology will debut in 2011.

The technology may also make it possible to build extremely thin displays. QD Vision is working with government agencies such as the U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorateon micro-displays using quantum dot-based light-emitting devices.

The company has raised $33 million in financing from venture capital firms North Bridge Venture Partners, Highland Capital Partners, DTE Energy Ventures, and In-Q-Tel, the venture funding arm of the U.S. intelligence community. Last year the New England Clean Energy Council named QD Vision as its Emerging Company of the Year.

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