DOE Announces SBIR and STTR Funding Opportunities Including Potential Topics Covering SSL and OLEDs

The U.S. Department of Energy published a list potential topics for Small Business Innovative Research and Strategic Technology Transfer Research and is accepting SBIR and STTR applications for funding. The DOE listed several potential topics in fundamental solid state lighting research. In the LED and OLED technology segment, funding is up to $150,000 for a Phase I project and up to $1 million for a Phase II project.

According to the explanation of potential SSL-related topics, the purpose of the SSL funding is to support early-stage fundamental research that promotes quantum material science development or manufacturing innovations that show significant potential for achieving SSL products that operate at closer to their theoretical maximums by reaching or surpassing the device performance goals established by DOE in its SSL Research and Development Plan (RDP) 2,

The DOE reasoned that with SSL market adoption rate less than it could be, the emerging SSL market still holds considerable opportunity to expand with even more significant cost reductions and product performance enhancements over the
next decade. Furthermore, the DOE says that the advent of new advanced materials and manufacturing methods for the emerging wide spectrum of SSL products and components is expected to make these cost reductions and performance improvements possible.

Possible SSL Subtopics for SBIR/STTR Funding

The following subtopic descriptions highlight a few opportunities that are of special interest to this community and to DOE’s SSL Program, which is explained more fully at https://energy.gov/eere/ssl/solid-state-lighting. Proposals sought must succinctly address and reference one or more of the key materials challenges described. Notably, applications that do not primarily relate to photonic materials or devices for general illumination in buildings will not be accepted.

While LEDs have achieved above 100 lumens per watt efficiency, the technology still has room for significant efficiency improvement. New and novel III-Nitride alloys or buffer materials, as well as thermal and light management solutions for LEDs, could also be developed, according to the DOE. Such developments could significantly enhance the performance or longevity of LEDs without having to completely replace the existing fabrication infrastructure.

Some potential examples of this could include the development of efficient long-wavelength emitters. Also, the development of high-temperature encapsulants that serve as alternatives to existing silicone systems and might possess better thermal properties or provide more-favorable light control would be a possible topic.

Another potential topic includes using self-assembly of microchips or dice to eliminate costly conventional substrates. Also, roll-to-roll processing, either within an existing tool with an alternative epitaxial growth technique could be used to fabricate LEDs less expensively. Additionally, a new method of growing conventional epitaxial material on engineered, inexpensive substrates or growing on large-format wafers could be developed.

Another possible innovation could be to integrate characterization tools into the fabrication or synthesis of key materials to guide the crystal growth in an MOCVD system to increase yield and quality and reduce cost.

Other research opportunities include the use of advanced light management of outcoupling efficiency techniques such as
microelectromechanical systems (MEMs), liquid crystals, or electrowetting.

Another potential topic would be to reduce the impact of droop in green LED efficacy or other non-radiative loss mechanisms
and advanced downconverter concepts, particularly at the molecular level.

Potential OLED SBIR/STTR Research Topics

For OLEDs, the technology has not reached the performance and low cost and longer lifetimes required for commercial viability. The two main goals for OLED technological improvement include lower manufacturing and process costs and increased efficacy. Therefore, the DOE says that potential topics for SBIR or STTR funding opportunities include developing viable alternatives to the conventional methods used to achieve light extraction from OLEDs.

Candidate solutions also might employ unique light-shaping optics, extraction layers, cavity resonance, alignment of emitting molecules, or even alternative structures or geometries of an OLED system.

Winning Proposals Judged to Be Most Commercially Viable

While all of the listed potential topics hold significant financial risk, the winning proposals, according to the DOE will be the ones judged to have the greatest potential for commercial adoption.

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