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GaN LEDs on Flexible Metal Foils

iBeam Materials
ARPA-E Award: 
Santa Fe, NM
Project Term: 
03/10/2014 to 06/30/2019
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

There is currently a substantial loss of energy across our energy infrastructure due to the poor efficiencies of existing electrical devices. Innovative new semiconductor materials, device architectures, and fabrication processes promise improvement in performance and efficiency. A large fraction of US electricity (18%) is used for lighting. The widespread deployment of efficient LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL) would significantly reduce the demand for electricity in the US. However, the greatest barrier still holding back LEDs replacing incandescent and fluorescent lighting is cost of the LED luminaire systems. Although LED lighting has made great strides in penetrating the lighting market, the technology is focused in the niche high-end lighting space and still far from a mainstream application in commercial lighting where it is hard to compete in cost. Despite LED chip and package costs decreasing incredibly over the past decade, for LEDs to dominate the lighting market the cost of LED lighting must be further reduced. The manufacturing cost of LED chips and packages must be addressed as well as a cost reduction of other parts of the luminaire system. Currently the packaged LEDs are used as surface mounted devices (SMD) and typically implemented with a pick-and-place (P&P) technology in lighting devices. P&P machines are automated ways of mounting SMDs mechanically. Eliminating SMD's and P&P would simplify the LED luminaire considerably and reduce costs further.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

iBeam Materials is developing a scalable manufacturing method to produce low-cost gallium nitride (GaN) LED devices for use in solid-state lighting. iBeam Materials uses an ion-beam crystal-aligning process to create single-crystal-like templates on arbitrary substrates thereby eliminating the need for small rigid single-crystal substrates. This process is inexpensive, high-output, and allows for large-area deposition in particular on flexible metal foils. In using flexible substrates, in contrast to rigid single-crystal wafers, the ion-aligning process also enables roll-to-roll (R2R) processing of crystalline films. R2R processing in turn simplifies manufacturing scale-up by reducing equipment footprint and associated labor costs By fabricating the LED directly on a metal substrate, one "pre-packages" the LED with the reflector and the heat sink built-in. This significantly reduces cost, simplifies packaging and allows a pick-and-place (P&P) technology to be replaced with printing of LEDs.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, iBeam Material's GaN coating on inexpensive large area substrates could significantly reduce the manufacturing cost of GaN based LEDs used in Solid State Lighting, accelerating their widespread use.


A large fraction of US electricity (18%) is used for lighting. The widespread deployment of LED-based solid state lighting (SSL) would reduce the demand for electricity which would in turn would help reduce U.S. oil imports.


Widespread adoption of efficient solid state lighting promises to reduce electricity consumption, resulting in fewer harmful energy-related emissions.


Widespread adoption of efficient solid state lighting would use less energy, saving American families and business owners' money on their power bills.

Innovation Update: 
(As of March 2017) 
The iBeam team has identified a path to market based on the flexible nature of their inorganic LED technology. One of the first market applications under consideration is horticulture lighting, as the form factor of iBeam’s light strip enables light distribution with a lower power density and lower heat density than traditional light sources, making the strip cool enough for leaf contact and enabling an ‘intra-canopy’ lighting breakthrough product. Ultimately, iBeam sees developing light-emitting strips that will enable a cost-competitive LED replacement for the fluorescent light tubes that dominate commercial lighting markets. iBeam’s goal is for their light strip to cost less than $0.1/kilolumen about half the cost of conventional LED lighting systems.
iBeam’s technical goals are to demonstrate a large-area LED light strip prototype on a 40 x 5 mm flexible metal foil with a luminance exceeding 50,000 candela per square meter. The team approached the project by first identifying an appropriate metal substrate. They then developed a process called solution deposition planarization (SDP™) to planarize the starting metal substrate over large areas by repeatedly depositing smoothing layers. The SDP layer provides the smoothness needed for the ion beam assisted deposition (IBAD) process and also provides the appropriate base layer of IBAD texturing and a barrier to interdiffusion from the substrate. After planarization, a buffer layer is deposited on the metal foil. iBeam developed a buffer layer with 3-fold symmetry to accommodate the hexagonal crystal structure of gallium nitride. The iBeam team worked with Sandia National Laboratories to develop a metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) process for depositing epitaxial GaN and other LED device layers on their IBAD templates. The SDP™ and the IBAD processes developed by iBeam are implemented in a continuous R2R deposition, while the GaN MOCVD at Sandia is done in a wafer batch process. Cost savings are expected from implementing the R2R MOCVD for GaN, and from the simplification of the LED packaging.
For a detailed assessment of the iBeam project and impact, please click here.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact: 
Dr. Vladimir Matias
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sandia National Laboratory
Release Date: