DOE Announces Awardees of First Phase of SBIR-STTR Grants for 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science has awarded four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and one Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants for projects targeting critical advances in solid-state lighting (SSL) technology. The five Phase I Release 1 grants will explore the technical merit and commercial potential of different innovative concepts or technologies that are expected to contribute to the achievement of the price and performance goals described in DOE’s SSL R&D Plan

The SBIR-STTR program seeks to increase the participation of small businesses in federally sponsored innovative and novel research and development. To learn more about this program, visit //science.energy.gov/sbir/.

The five SBIR-STTR Phase I Release 1 grants directly related to SSL are briefly described below:

SBIR Recipient: Pixelligent Technologies LLC

Title: Light Extraction for OLED Lighting with 3-D Gradient Index

Summary: The mismatches between the refractive indices (RI) that are located between the active layer, transparent conductive anode layer, indium tin oxide, and substrate are a major cause of light-extraction inefficiency in OLED devices. By incorporating any high-RI internal light-extraction layer that addresses this problem, the efficacy and lifetime of an OLED device can dramatically improve. This project will explore the application of a novel and unique three-dimensional gradient index (GRIN) layer for that purpose. Using such a unique structure, OLEDs could be produced that achieve the theoretical maximum extraction efficiency. Furthermore, the envisioned OLED device with this layer will help to direct light where it’s most needed, while maintaining the desired “off-state” appearance when incorporated into a practical luminaire such as a panel. In Phase I of the project, the grantee will demonstrate the performance and possible manufacturing method by using a laboratory-scale inkjet printer to prepare a functional three-dimensional GRIN layer for incorporation into an OLED test coupon by OLEDWorks.

SBIR Recipient: Lumisyn, LLC


Title: High Performance Nanocrystals in Silicones


Summary: This project will seek to form unique nanocrystal-based silicone films with high quantum efficiencies and low optical scattering losses that will maintain those critical properties under LED operation and with optically dense films. Novel nanocrystal surface region materials will be synthesized, analyzed for performance, and then optimized accordingly in order to enable maximum efficiency with minimal scattering loss for the proposed silicone-based films. The main goal for the Phase I effort is to develop stable, silicone-based films that will demonstrate high-performance optical properties and will maintain those properties under the harsh operating conditions of production LEDs. The resulting nanocrystal-based silicone films can be placed directly on blue LEDs, replacing other conventional downconverter systems without compromise in overall efficiency and with improved color, stability, and life. Also, when used in conjunction with downconverting systems containing conventional green-yellow-emitting bulk phosphors in phosphor-converted LED (pcLED) device designs, the resulting phosphor blends may create warm-white pcLEDs with an increase of as much as a factor of 1.3 in efficacy while enabling high-quality white light with high color rendering. By adding green- and yellow-emitting nanocrystals to the silicone films, further LED system efficacy gains can be made, also enabling custom light sources to be created.

SBIR Recipient: OLEDWorks, LLC

Title: OLED Lighting Substrate and Encapsulation System for Breakthrough Cost Reductions


Summary: This project seeks to develop a novel substrate and encapsulation process that will a) eliminate the need to pattern the anode layer, which will reduce the cost of the substrate; b) cut the number of different masks in half (with the potential to eliminate the masks altogether), which will reduce the OLED deposition capital equipment cost and process operation cost; and c) increase the lit area of the panel to get significantly more light per panel. A key element of the proposed cost reductions depends on the application of a relatively new electrical attachment technology to form a hermetic seal around the OLED lighting area. This system will use a robotically controlled production-scale process that has been installed at OLEDWorks and has already been used to develop processes and select materials for electrical attachment. This technique will be further developed to form hermetic encapsulation on a simpler substrate while possibly producing a narrower unlit width around the panels. During Phase I, the hermetic sealing will be demonstrated on an increasingly challenging set of formats – from simple systems demonstrating the component parts, to the fully integrated OLED system. The final result will be a complete proof-of-principle for this novel substrate and encapsulation system, demonstrating the proposed reduction in manufacturing cost and thereby reducing a significant barrier to commercial OLED sales for general illumination applications. In Phase II, the technology will be scaled up and new commercial products using it will be launched.

SBIR Recipient: SC Solutions, Inc.


Title: Radiation-Assisted MOCVD Heating for Improved Within-Wafer Temperature Uniformity in LED Manufacturing


Summary: This project seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of an innovative control technology for improved within-wafer temperature uniformity in the metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) process that is most commonly used to produce commercial multi-quantum-well (MQW) LEDs. The proposed control technology promises to substantially reduce the need for “binning” in LED manufacturing, a common production challenge thought to represent additional cost and complexity, including reduced wafer yield and less-than-ideal emission properties of phosphor-converted LEDs (pcLEDs). These challenges are believed to hinder more-widespread acceptance of LED products for energy-efficient building-illumination applications.SC Solutions will address this challenge by employing radiant heating from the top of the wafer with a heat flux profile shaped using a specially designed mask.  The heater will be located beyond the susceptor edge within the MOCVD or tool. It will be controlled in conjunction with the susceptor heaters, using an integrated control architecture. The proposed approach is expected to reduce within-wafer non-uniformity by 90% or more.

STTR Recipient: MicroLink Devices, Inc.


Title: AlxIn1-xP LEDs with II-VI Cladding Layers for Efficient Red and Amber Emission


Summary: In this project, MicroLink Devices and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will team to improve the performance of phosphide-based red and amber LEDs by engineering the composition and alloy combinations of these established semiconductor systems to overcome certain fundamental loss mechanisms that are known to limit performance. The approach builds on the team’s longstanding efforts using similar materials to advance high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell technologies. The main objective of the project is to improve the performance of red and amber LEDs by implementing an AlxN1-x-xP-based active region in combination with an advantageous electron cladding layer based on a higher bandgap II-VI semiconductor alloy. By demonstrating an innovative crosscutting technology to design and fabricate high-efficiency, phosphide-based LEDs for eventual use in high-performance multi-LED SSL devices, this design approach is expected to mitigate both internal and external loss mechanisms in a significant way, thereby increasing efficacy in a stable and cost-effective manner. This is anticipated to be the most significant improvement in the efficiency of red and amber LEDs in decades and will reduce market adoption risk by using existing device designs and manufacturing processes.

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