Market review: High brightness LEDs

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikoulichev

Our magazine is devoted to LED videoscreens and all technological innovations related to large size or large resolution LED screens, both indoor and outdoor. Recently we came across an interesting material from Compound Semiconductors Online that focuses on an important topic of LED market, something we never wrote about. Below is the slightly abridged article.

High brightness LEDs

With a growth rate exceeding 58% annually for the past five years, the worldwide market for High Brightness LEDs (HB-LEDs) reached $1.2 billion in 2000, and accounted for 42% of the total LED market. According to a recently published report by market research firm Strategies Unlimited, continued robust growth is projected for the next five years, with the market expected to exceed $3.4 billion in 2005. The report, entitled High Brightness LED Market Review and Forecast - 2001, provides a comprehensive analysis and forecast of the applications, markets and supply of HB-LEDs.

The High Brightness LED market is served by a number of large established suppliers as well as several smaller emerging ones. Dominating the market for blue, green and white LEDs based on indium gallium nitride (InGaN) are Nichia Corporation, Toyoda Gosei, Cree, and Osram Opto Semiconductors.

The major suppliers of yellow, orange and red HB-LEDs based on indium gallium aluminum phosphide (InGaAlP) are Agilent Technologies and Lumileds Lighting (Agilent's joint venture partner with Philips Lighting), Osram Opto Semiconductors, Toshiba, and Taiwanese chip suppliers UEC and Epistar. Other major players on the world market include Stanley Electric, Matsushita Electric, Sharp and Citizen Electronics. The emergence of newer suppliers, such as AXT and Uniroyal Optoelectronics and a number of Taiwanese startups, will make the competitive picture even more interesting in years to come.

Although High Brightness LEDs are penetrating all market sectors, several applications stand out as being truly enabled by the availability of this technology. For example, large, full-color outdoor LED signs became possible only in the mid-1990s as HB-LEDs became available in all three primary colors - red, green and blue. Such signs are bright, colorful and can easily accept full video frame rates.

The use of high-brightness LEDs in center high-mounted stop lamps (CHMSLs) for cars has made significant inroads in the U.S., Europe and Japan, to the extent that 32% of all cars and light trucks worldwide came equipped with LED CHMSLs in 2000. Beginning in 1997, a significant fraction of European cars began using blue, green, white and amber HB-LEDs for instrument panel illumination, and today over 50% of European-made cars (for example, VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes) are so equipped.

LED traffic signals have experienced dramatic market growth since the mid-1990s. The use of more expensive LEDs to replace incandescent lamps in traffic signals is based on the high reliability of the LEDs as well as the fact that LEDs use 80% less electricity than filtered incandescent lamps. For example, the current energy crisis in California has induced the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to retrofit the more than 200,000 signals it controls with LEDs.

In the past two years the use of HB-LEDs to backlight small LCD displays, particularly for mobile phones, has made a major contribution to the market. Both single color backlighting (e.g. blue, green, amber, red) of monochrome displays, as well as white backlighting of full-color displays, have grown rapidly in Asia, and their use is spreading to Europe and North America.

One of the biggest potential markets for High Brightness LEDs is the general illumination market. Although the availability of HB-LEDs at the price and performance levels required for large-scale penetration of this market is still some years away, several specialty illumination markets are already being addressed.

Moreover, several joint ventures have been formed between High Brightness LED suppliers and the world's largest lighting suppliers to address the illumination market, including Lumileds Lighting (Philips Lighting and Agilent); GELcore (GE Lighting and Emcore); and Osram Opto Semiconductors (Osram and Infineon). Current niche lighting applications include machine vision, architectural and theme lighting, retail lighting, and contour lighting.

Editor's note... The first commercially available white LED nightlights and flashlights have already appeared on the market in limited volume through major retail outlets such as WalMart, where they experienced rapid sell-outs. These applications accounted for just 3% of the High Brightness LED market in 2000, but will pave the way for the larger illumination applications to follow.