Sandia National Laboratories is home to one of the 46 multi-million dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. These Centers integrate the talents and expertise of leading scientists in a setting designed: to accelerate basic and advanced discovery research; and to establish the scientific foundation for a fundamentally new U.S. energy economy that enhances U.S. energy security and protects the global environment in the century ahead.
Our own EFRC is focused on solid-state lighting science. Solid-state lighting (SSL) is simply the use of solid-state devices, like light-emitting diodes, or like the lasers which are illuminating the frosted white post in the left graphic shown above, to produce white light for general illumination. The goal of our SSLS EFRC is to help build the scientific foundation that enables solid-state lighting to produce the most light for the least energy, both in the U.S. and, as a side-benefit, throughout the world.
Why is this important? It is important because producing light requires a lot of energy (see, e.g., “Solid-State Lighting: An Energy-Economics Perspective”). To produce the light that the world consumes requires about 1/15 of the world’s primary energy (and about 1/5 of the world’s electricity) at a consumer cost, in the year 2005, of about US$330B (the U.S. portion of this cost is about US$63B). Indeed, it is a testament to how important and useful light is that humanity is willing to spend this much each year on light.
So our EFRC is devoted to efficiency. The more efficiently light is created the more light one can consume for the same energy, and the less energy one needs to consume for the same light. And this is of course also where solid-state lighting enters in. As an emerging technology, solid-state lighting has the potential to reduce that energy consumption by a factor of 4 to 8 times. While SSL technology is far from achieving that potential at present, our SSLS EFRC is helping lay the scientific foundation for achieving that potential in the future. Very briefly, and as discussed in more detail elsewhere in this website, we are:
- Researching the fundamental mechanisms that limit energy efficiency in the current generation of SSL technology
- Exploring new, nanophotonic routes, such as nanowires, quantum dots, and lasers, to the conversion of electricity to light with the potential for much higher efficiencies