LEDs Dazzle the Shanghai World Expo

Observations from the International Semiconductor Lighting Technology Forum
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As president of LED Lighting Technologies, Dr. M. Nisa Khan consults in the solid state lighting industry and educates consumers about LED lighting. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering. Email her at nisa.khan@iem-asset.com
In such specific industries as signage and general lighting, LEDs are primarily seen as alternative light sources for existing products — channel letters, electronic digital signage, display lighting and more. However, LED-based applications and signage spectaculars have also jazzed up major cities’ entertainment zones, as well as major events, with such applications as active-matrix, LED-based, building wraps; message centers; stationary and mobile billboards; innovative light shows and area lighting.
I recently spoke at the Shanghai International Semiconductor Lighting Technology Forum, which was concurrently held with the 4th China International LED Industry and City Lighting Expo, which overlapped the 41st World Expo. A tour of the 2010 World Expo spotlights LEDs’ ability to dazzle, entertain and inform a crowd.
The World Expo was the first for China. Its theme, “Better City, Better Life,” projects Shanghai as the world’s next great city. The participating countries’ total exhibition spending — some $30 billion— exceeded any previous World Expo expenditure.
The Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality hosted the Semiconductor Lighting Forum; the event was by organized by the city’s Research Center of Engineering and Technology for Solid-State Lighting.
The forum was held at Shanghai’s new, 377,000-sq.-ft. International Expo Center that housed 450, LED-enterprise exhibitors — most were outdoor EMC and point-of-sale display manufacturers. There, approximately 350 attendees listened and engaged in discussions that followed presentations from LED experts who had journeyed from Japan, Europe, South Korea, Australia, China and the U.S.
One notable presenter was Professor Shuji Nakamura, from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). A former Nichia employee, Professor Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Prize for inventing blue and white LEDs. His invention triggered the start of the LED lighting and display industries.
Professor Nakamura addressed LED-chip efficiency improvements and the intention of his UCSB team to, in the near future, achieve more than 265 lm/W efficacy from white, high-brightness LEDs.
Aichi Lighting’s chief designer, Mikiko Ishii, displayed slides of indoor and outdoor spaces — Japan and China’s shopping malls, train stations and parks — all beautifully illuminated with LED lighting. She said the LED-based lighting achieving a 30% to 70%, energy savings for the various applications.
I addressed four measures that would accelerate LED lighting’s success: how to increase the internal quantum efficiency at the LED-chip level and possibly overcome the droop challenge that has frustrated the industry; how to achieve more uniform light distribution to overcome the directional nature of LEDs; how LED lifespan can be expanded through better thermal management; and what critical factors can reduce high LED-lamp costs.
I proposed some solutions — a few were novel ideas — and will write about them in future columns.
World Expo
Following the forum, I spent a day at the World Expo, to see the exhibits and view the after-dark lighting extravaganza. At night, all the national pavilions, theme pavilions and grounds, as well as the Huangpu River cityscape, came alive with extraordinary lighting and display technologies — much of which involved LEDs as well as fiberoptics, lasers and image projections.
The expo functioned as a demonstration area for the world’s latest lighting technologies, but, clearly, LED-lighting systems dominated the nighttime scenes.
The red, 207-ft.-high China pavilion, the expo’s tallest, resembles an ancient Chinese crown. Its presentations included LED lighting, art, modern agriculture and 21st-century “green” technologies — electric cars and alternative energy sources. The pavilion may remain as a Shanghai landmark, just as Paris’ 1889 World Expo Eiffel Tower.
Other remarkable sites were theme pavilions: the World Expo Axis, the Expo center and Performing Arts center. In each venue, LED lighting provided grand entertainment for visitors, who seemed mesmerized by the sights.
The World Expo Axis structure comprises more than 80,000, LED-based lamps, which created the illusion of a giant, transparent, tension membrane. The 3,280-ft.-long covering was described as the world’s largest membrane construction made with steel and glass funnels.
The Urban Best Practices Area, also described as the “Eco-house in Shanghai,” used LED lighting extensively. Its five central themes explored different, urban-development aspects: Urban Footprints, Urban Planet, Urban Dwellers, Urban Beings and Urban Dreams. Its designers applied LED lighting in both indoor and outdoor applications. They said such lighting promises white, indoor light for all occasions, and LEDs encapsulate higher efficiency, greater energy saving, and better environmental protection and electronic control, compared to standard lighting methods.
I soon spotted other, LED-based lights that reside in areas not exclusive to the expo midway — outdoor-landscape, decorative and general indoor lighting. The Expo Park garden path, for example, was illuminated with approximately 200 LED lamps. I also learned Shanghai’s energy-efficient buses use LED interior lamps.
Shanghai’s lighting experts said 80% of the World Expo’s night lighting uses LED technology, and this, they said, provides a comprehensive energy savings of up to 70%, compared to other available systems.
China’s energy challenge
Recently, China eclipsed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy with annual GDP of nearly $5.35 trillion, trailing only the U.S. China hopes LED lighting can aide the energy savings needed to balance this unprecedented, economic growth.
China, which is in the thick of urbanization, is far from developed. Its land mass approximates the U.S., but, because it sustains a fifth of the world’s population, the country has a much lower standard of living than the U.S. However, it’s resolutely building its economy, which has heightened its demand for oil, coal, iron ore and other natural resources.
In 2004, China’s National People's Congress called for a 20% reduction in energy consumption (per unit of GDP) by the end of 2010. Subsequently, China’s urban planners and civil engineers adopted ambitious, energy-conservation programs that include LED-based lighting technologies. The World Expo creators’ application of these technologies helped demonstrate China’s plan. In a lively, energy-conscious atmosphere, the designers and architects successfully portrayed China’s conservation commitment — while also entertaining and educating an enthusiastic crowd.