Photonics may not be a household word but it is everywhere. Thought of as "light technologies," photonics is a part of our daily lives from the time we switch on a light to drive a car with a head up display to go to the doctor for a CT scan.
Despite the tough economic times that the world has experienced in the past few years the market for light technologies is looking bright. According to SPIE, the global photonics market is estimated at 395bn USD and is expected to reach 632bn USD by 2015. The market in Europe is estimated at 60bn EUR.
Earlier this month the European Commission held its biannual event, Invest in Photonics,a strategic program co-organized by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, ALPhA (Aquitaine Laser Photonics and Applications) technology cluster and CEA, the largest government-funded technological research organization in France. Attendence was up 20% from two years ago. Special funding was awarded to 19 selected companies and that funding more than doubled (90m USD) what had previously been given.
It's really all about light
While photonics is not actually a market in itself, but a group of "light technologies," it has been a difficult sell to venture capitalists. Invest in Photonics Chairman, Giorgia Anania pointed out that Invest in Photonics strives to do just that. “Invest in Photonics is the only venue that informs VCs about future applications in photonics which we back by providing them with market data from diverse economic sectors.” Anania added that, “The photonics industry will have a major impact on a range of industries. We bring the key players together to help make this happen.”
Applications in the real world
To highlight actual applications for potential investors, discussion focused on real-world products and technologies for emerging markets. These fell into the consumer goods, cleantech and healthcare categories and included LED lighting, solar energy and early diagnosis of disease through light-based detection methods.
Looking specifically at the LED market, this solid-state lighting technology is not just replacing indoor lightbulbs and making the Empire State Building change colours. LEDs currently represent half the sales for backlighting in televisions and mobile devices. According to Yole Development's "Status of the LED Industry," a compound growth of 13% is expected over the next two years, from $11.4bn US in 2012 to $17bn in 2018.
“LED is unlike any other lighting technology in history,” said Hans Nikol, vice-president LED Innovation and Strategy at Philips Lighting. “Today, every light technology from the candle to fluorescent and halogen co-exists. We strongly believe that LED will wipe out previous existing lighting technologies.”
Another emerging area is integrated photonics, doing with light what has been previously achieved with electronics. “Areas where photonics can provide solutions include the necessity to reduce the power consumption of running and cooling computer servers, as well as routers that are becoming increasingly more power hungry,” said Pierre Billardon, president Carl Zeiss France.
And then there's solar. Raffi Garabedian, chief technical officer at First Solar, pointed out that lighting technologies can help with Incremental technological developments that can in areas such as metrologies for improved quality and process controls in PV manufacturing; balance of system controls for low cost power conversion, grid integration and controls and prediction and forecasting: disruptive new PV technologies that may offer low system costs and improved efficiency.
And the winner is...
The 2012 Invest in Photonics selected company award went to Belgian-based Ovizio Imaging Systems, a company developing digital holography for quantitative microscopic imaging platforms.