01 August 2011

That green glow from the lab? It's photonics innovation

The recent news from Brussels that the European Commission is proposing to increase research and innovation funding to €80.2 billion for the 2014-2020 budget has a decidedly green tint. Some of the money in the proposal to fund the EU’s newly named Horizon 2020 strategy would be earmarked for energy, and some to make the economy greener and more competitive.

Examples of how photonics -- one of the six Key Enabling Technologies identified by the European Commission -- drives innovation in support of sustainability are everywhere.

As an overview, Steve Eglash (Stanford University and Precourt Institute for Energy) explains in this video just what "green photonics" is, and talks about the integration of disciplines such as psychology, law, business, and physics.



In a keynote paper presented last March at SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg, Berit Wessler (OSRAM) and Ursula Tober (VDI Technologiezentrum) provided a comprehensive look at the direct environmental benefits from -- for example -- laser-based manufacturing.

Citing examples in solid-state lighting, solar cells, and optical communications as well as in manufacturing, the paper notes that "In addition to the direct eco-benefits derived from the products themselves, green photonics will also impact the product design and manufacturing processes employed."

The full paper, "Green photonics: the role of photonics in sustainable product design," is available via open access in the SPIE Digital Library.

More examples were provided at the Strasbourg meeting by companies including TRUMPF, SCHOTT, Nokia, Daimler, OSRAM, Telecom Paritech, Deutsche telecom and telecom Italia:
  • smart LEDs in automobile engineering, both outside and inside the vehicle
  • ecologically sound glass for lighting
  • diffraction to save energy in smart phone display
  • energy reduction in optical fiber telecom networking.

Later this month,  at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, a special forum on "Green" Materials led by Michael Postek (U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology) and Nora Savage (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) will explore the use of benign materials, innovative reclamation and recycling options, and much more.

For more ideas about what's ahead in the solar arena, the Optics + Photonics program on Solar Energy + Technology will include more than 300 papers advancing photovoltaics, thin films, solar hydrogen, and related fields. As the abstract for a keynote talk on "Green nanotechnology" by Geoffrey Smith (University of Technology, Sydney) shows, photonics has gone green at all levels.

All this green thinking around the globe is very timely. With the economy's growing reliance on photonics and an increasing need for sustainable choices across all areas of life, green photonics innovation is a vital part of the solution to the major challenges facing the world.

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