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CEO Naor says Group IV’s silicon-based light chips could use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 50 times longer. He adds that the ultimate goal is to have brighter, higher quality light at far less cost than conventional LEDs, which today can run around $40 for bulbs containing a cluster of 36 LEDs. “You can build an LED lightbulb out of many LEDs,” he explains. “But we anticipate one [silicon-based] chip will be bright enough to replace a 100-watt lightbulb, so in that sense we’re brighter. And that one chip has huge cost benefits.”

But Naor concedes that Group IV’s technology is not yet ready to take on conventional LEDs. “We have a lot of work ahead to get brighter, to get it to the efficiency we’re targeting, and of course to get the lifetimes that the industry is expecting.”

Meanwhile, the traditional LED market isn’t standing still. San Jose, CA-based Philips Lumileds Lighting, the world’s largest manufacturer of high-powered LEDs, continues to roll out products. The Optoelectronics Industry Development Association estimates that the mass substitution of incandescent lighting with LEDs could happen by 2012, while significant displacement of fluorescent technology would follow several years later.

Whether Group IV can catch up with its competition is not clear; but, after four years of research, the company is ready to move its technology into prototype and product development. “The target is to have a demonstration ability–meaning a real lightbulb–three years from now,” says Naor, adding that he’d like to see a product in the marketplace within five years that can be price-competitive with today’s compact fluorescents. “It’s what people are willing to pay. It’s difficult to be precise on where we’ll be on price three or four years away, but we’re very comfortable we’ll be in the ballpark,” he says.

Canadian natural gas giant EnCana Corp. and the federal granting agency Sustainable Development Technology Canada together have contributed $4.6 million (Canadian) toward the company’s effort. And Vinod Khosla, through his Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, is also an investor.

But MIT’s Bawendi says Group IV may have a tough time meeting its schedule. “Three years sounds awfully fast; but I don’t know where they’re starting from. The challenge for them is one of efficiencies; they must get their efficiencies high and costs way down.”

At stake is access to the world’s $12-billion lightbulb market. “Clearly solid-state white lighting is something that has many potential opportunities,” adds Bawendi. “It’s a huge market, so anybody who can get a little piece of it can do well.”

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