UNC Chemist Researches the Next Generation of LEDs

Grant-Funded Project Could Lead to More Affordable, Longer Lasting Lighting Options

University of Northern Colorado chemist Robin Macaluso is leading a grant-funded project to explore the next generation of efficient lighting, which could result in more affordable, longer-lasting options for light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, in the future.

Artificial lighting accounts for 10 percent of total energy consumed by the average U.S. household. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates LEDs will reduce lighting energy demands by 25 percent by 2027 - eliminating the need to build 40 new power plants.

Macaluso will study compounds that could open up new possibilities for materials used in LEDs, as part of the two-year, $100,000 grant awarded by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund (acknowledgement is made to the Donors of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for support -- or partial support -- of this research.)

Macaluso and her team will analyze an underexplored class of materials known as pyrochlore oxynitrides, a ceramic that's inexpensive to produce and shows promise for use in LEDs. Oxides are currently used in LED lighting, but challenges include getting the right brightness and intended hues. Replacing oxygen with nitrogen in the oxides forms pyrochlore oxynitrides. Combined with other elements, Macaluso hopes that process leads to identifying a new material for building a better bulb.

"This (pyrochlore oxynitrides) is all experimental; no one has done this," Macaluso said. "We want to make more colors and have better control over the colors we make.

"Depending on how much nitrogen we put in, we can control how much energy is being released and therefore the colors (emitted)."

Macaluso will be joined by Oregon State University Professor Mas Subramanian along with UNC undergraduate and graduate students, who will conduct experiments in labs at UNC and Oregon State and national neutron and X-ray scattering facilities.

"In two years, we'll know if we can successfully put nitrogen in material and change its optical properties," Macaluso said. "Then we can fine-tune which materials are best for mass marketing, engineering and for putting in stores, homes and businesses."

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