TAIPEI — For perhaps the first time in the world, trials taking place in China next month will use lasers for street lighting, an innovation aimed at saving energy and eliminating the cost of expensive cabling infrastructure.
David Ho and the Jinjing Co. have developed the new lighting technology in the city of Fuzhou in China’s southeastern Fujian Province. Trials will start next month in the nearby city of Fuqing.
The technology uses laser beams of blue light to transmit energy across large distances without power lines. The beams strike devices that use quantum-induced materials to transform the laser energy into light for illumination.
While automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW are already using a similar technology for car headlights, the trial in China is aimed at developing applications for street and highway lighting as well as environments not readily accessible to a power grid.
Researchers such as Steven DenBaars at UC Santa Barbara have been looking into the idea for several years. In theory, per square centimeter, a laser diode can produce 2,000 times as much light as an off-the-shelf LED. Lasers for conventional illumination are aimed at a phosphor that transforms blue laser light into more diffuse white light.
“Laser lighting will be a key solution for energy conservation in the future,” says Ho, who received his Ph.D in nuclear science. “This dream will soon become a reality.”
Laser lighting test in Jinjing Co. laboratory
Laboratory tests of the technology in China indicate that it would save as much as two-thirds of the energy used in LED lighting, allowing the use of solar panels to provide power for the system. The use of laser beams to transmit power would also eliminate the need for power lines and the supporting physical infrastructure.
The laboratory-tested technology is ready for system optimization and commercialization tests. Mass production is slated to start in about six months.
The early-stage investors in the technology are venture capital firms in Fujian and Jiangsu provinces, according to Ho.
After the trials are completed in Fuqing, the system will be installed in a project at Luoyuan County near Fuzhou, he added.
A patent for the design of the system has been granted in China, and more patents are pending in China and other nations.
Ho says obstacles that must be overcome before the system is rolled out include reducing the cost of the laser diodes. Regulatory standards are likely to follow rules currently governing LED lights, and issues regarding public safety and environmental hazards will be regulated by current laser safety codes such as ANSI Z136.1 that’s used in the United States.
If the laser lighting system is effectively commercialized, it could replace LED lighting within decades, according to Ho.
Ho expects that wider applications for the technology could include lighting for homes, basements, parking spaces and 24-hour marketplaces.
—Alan Patterson covers the semiconductor industry for EE Times. He is based in Taiwan.