Commercializing Graphite Foam Technology
A new technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that extends the life of light-emitting diode lamps has been licensed to LED North America.
Signed at a ceremony with Lab Director Thom Mason, the agreement exclusively licenses a graphite foam technology developed by James Klett and colleagues of ORNL's Materials Science and Technology Division. LED North America will use the graphite foam to passively cool components in LED lamps, which are increasingly in demand for applications such as street and parking garage lighting. LED North America specializes in providing LED lighting products for municipal, commercial and industrial applications.
Because each 10-degree decrease in temperature can double the life of the lighting components, cooling LED lamps is critical to improving their efficiency. Using graphite foam to more efficiently dissipate the heat of LEDs is expected to extend their lifespans and lower their costs, making the technology more attractive to a broader consumer base.
"While this technology will reduce temperatures and increase the life of the LED lighting systems, the greatest long-term benefit will be the cost savings to municipalities from reduced fixture replacement and maintenance," Klett says.
The newly licensed graphite foam invention offers a number of advantages over comparable heat sink materials, such as copper and aluminum. Graphite foam's high thermal conductivity, low weight and easy machinability offer the material greater design flexibility and provide a lighter, cheaper and more efficient cooling option.
The foam's well-ordered graphite structure is the key to conductivity. The manufacturing process produces a skeletal structure full of air pockets, leaving the foam lightweight and only 25 percent dense. The network of ligaments in the foam wicks heat away from its source, providing an excellent candidate to cool the LED lamp components.
Championed as an energy saving lighting source, LEDs are expanding market share because of their lower energy consumption, compact size and longer life expectancy. Improved LED performance could enable LED North America to offer longer warranty periods than current competitors.
LED North America's relationship with ORNL was a factor in the decision by Andrew Wilhelm, one of the company's founders, to locate the company in Tech2020, an Oak Ridge high-tech business incubator.
"The proximity to ORNL provides us the opportunity to work closely with the Laboratory's researchers to further refine the integration of the graphite foam material into LED lamps," Wilhelm says.