Technologies are shifting and changing as fast as ever and these changes have great influence on our everyday lives as well. Modern age technologies surround us everywhere we look – be it smartphones, different new household tools, advanced automobiles and yes – also newest generation lighting solutions.
Every conscious consumer should be keeping up with the latest trends as new and new technologies with some really great potential are emerging. In terms of lighting, there are quite a lot of people out there who still have not completely said goodbye to the conventional (and inefficient) incandescent lights, to introduce fluorescent and LED lights in their households, and if continuing the same way, they are about to miss another new technological achievement – OLED lights. Since OLED lighting industry is just experiencing its baby steps, at the same time exploring its possibilities in the lighting market with a great determination, this article will briefly explain you everything we know so far in relation to OLED technologies and its future perspectives which actually are very, very promising.
What is OLED technology?
Compared to other technologies that can be and are applied in artificial lighting, OLEDs can be considered as one of the most recent ones. Although the first research and experiments that shaped the idea of electroluminescence being possible in organic materials, were done in late 1950s (we should honor French scientist André Bernanose and American chemist Martin Pope for these findings), it was no sooner than in 1987 when Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke at Eastman Kodak reported the first OLED device. For a conventional consumer who knows a bit about LED technology, it might be slightly difficult to comprehend the main specifics and differences of OLEDs, but actually the core-principle is quite simple.
OLED is organic light-emitting diode whose emissive electroluminescent layer consists of film of organic compound which can emit light. To put it in more simple words: OLEDs work in a similar way as conventional diodes and LEDs, except that they use organic molecules for producing electrons and holes (LEDs use n-type and p-type semiconductors). Regular OLED panel usually consists of six layers; in most of the cases protective glass or plastic are used on the top and bottom layers. The top layer is called the seal, but the bottom layer is known as the substrate. In between those layers a negative terminal (cathode) and a positive terminal (anode) are located, but between these two there are two organic molecule layers that produce the light, and the conductive layer.
Thus far, OLEDS are mainly used in digital displays e.g. computer monitors, mobile phones and TV screens, but it has a significant potential in solid-state lighting applications as well. One very distinct quality of OLEDs is the fact that OLED displays function without any backlight and hence can display deep black levels better than any other technology known to this date.
The difference between LED and OLED lighting
When speaking about the main differences between LED and OLED lighting, three main aspects should be discussed, namely:
Design. The most visible difference between LED and OLED lighting technologies can be immediately seen by their physical qualities and specifics. For LED lighting, small, intensely bright sources of light are used and they typically resemble conventional light bulbs, whereas OLED lighting is based on flat, dimmer sources of light (panels) that have an effect of glowing square or rectangle. Since OLED panels are not bright, they can be mounted in fixtures seen directly by the eye and there is no need for reflectors or diffusers that would cut the glare.
- Performance. In terms of efficiency, unfortunately there is still a lot to be improved for OLED lighting. LEDs can constantly provide 90-100 lm/w at package level, whereas OLEDs still can provide only 20-50lm/W. Also the lifespan of OLED is still not appealing enough and in this aspect they are still lagging behind. LED are still far ahead of OLED technology, as LED lamps can last around 50000 hours, while current OLED lighting is able to last only up to 15000 hours.
- Costs and price. Majority of consumers naturally base their decisions on the price and in this aspect OLED still can be considered as a high-value product, which makes it still quite unapproachable product for middle-income consumers. In comparison to this, LED lights are far cheaper: led lighting is now selling at average $5/klm at package level (luminaries costs $20-$100/klm), whereas OLED lamps cost $300-$500/klm at panel level, excluding the cost of retail, installation, fixture design, and profit margins. The high price is formed by the expensive parts of OLED lights: the encapsulation layer (barrier, adhesive and desiccant) and integrated substrates (transparent conductive layer, substrate and out-coupling layer).
The future perspectives of OLED lighting
While it is difficult to make precise predictions on how soon OLEDs will conquer our households and if they will be able to surpass LED lighting, one thing is clear – OLEDs will bring some novelties and surprising products that will be flexible, transparent and will use low-energy. Such products as watches and bent displays that use OLEDs have already entered the market and there are more exciting technologies to look forward to, including new lighting systems that look and function differently. Of course, if the popularity of OLEDs will increase, manufacturers will have to invest in improving and changing their manufacturing tools and processes, for instance, it will be very necessary to improve barrier layers for protecting OLEDs from oxygen and moisture, if they will want to conquer outdoor lighting market, where LED has currently reached a stable place of a market leader.
One of the future perspectives is that OLEDs will become more flexible not only in display products but also in lighting, increasing the possibilities to host any light source with OLED. The great potential of OLED technology has been noticed, and more and more companies are investing in developing the technology, so that it could be popularized commercially as well. This means that surely it is just a matter of few years until we see different products made from OLED panels available in our stores.