With 2013 in our rear-view mirror, I’m pleased to announce that Applied Ventures has completed another successful and busy year, investing more than $18 million in 2013, including closing six new investments in early stage companies. Altogether, since we first formed Applied Ventures in 2005, we have invested approximately $179 million in more than 50 portfolio companies spanning equipment, materials, device and process providers in the clean energy, semiconductor, display, lighting and energy storage sectors.
Applied Materials drives innovation in a variety of ways, including investing in internal R&D to continue to offer new products and technologies and collaborating with the world’s leading universities, research institutions, industry associations and consortia as well as government entities.
We’ve also developed internal programs to advance technology breakthroughs by encouraging and funding disruptive ideas that can accelerate product development.
The past two years have seen a significant decline in the number of venture firms making new investments in the Energy Technology and Semiconductor sectors. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for private companies raising capital in these sectors.
Increasingly, corporate investors are playing a critical role in financing companies in these sectors, with 54% of energy tech and 24% of semiconductor private financing rounds in 2012 including one or more corporate investors1.
As the funding for energy tech and semiconductor startups from traditional financing sources has weakened, Applied Ventures continues to be a strong supporter of new thinking that will drive these sectors.
What does it really mean to change the game in energy technologies? Not to change a single game – as with a last-second shot at the buzzer, a Hail Mary pass, or a diving catch to close out the inning – but to transform the entire game, with new rules, new technologies, and often-unexpected new results.
In the National Laboratory system, we are working on new energy technologies that could transform the ways we generate, store and use energy, and that could protect our environment while recharging our national economy. But as we tackle the fundamental scientific research we need to discover and develop disruptive new energy technologies, it’s worthwhile to ask: What does game-changing technology look like, and what are currently our best prospects for game changers?
Picture a future where your bathroom mirror doubles as an information resource, displaying the weather forecast and your daily agenda, and where your vision is precisely enhanced by tunable eyeglasses and windshields. This is a future that Halation Photonics aims to enable. Applied Ventures is proud to join Halation as an investor.
The majority of mobile devices today use LCD screens. While these displays are certainly a technical marvel, next generation devices will demand higher efficiency displays that consume significantly less power.
Unlike traditional displays that require a backlight and a constant power source, Halation’s multi-stable liquid crystal displays do not require any power to hold an image. In this video, Dan Sun, Halation’s chairman and CTO, explains Halation’s innovative technology and some of its applications.
Growth in LED demand—driven by broad adoption of general lighting applications—is expected to come at a fast, furious and sustained pace which analysts predict may last for a few years before the market once again pauses.
The way I see it, the current lull in LED market growth actually may be a great opportunity for LED manufacturers: Those who invest in productivity improvements now, while there is still the luxury of time, could potentially benefit significantly and outpace their competitors during the next high growth cycles.
Recently I had the opportunity to use a Nissan Leaf™ for several full days, a much more interesting exercise than a simple test drive. As someone working in the sustainability area, as a co-chair of the California Clean Cars campaign and as a likely car buyer in 2012 (my current vehicle has over 230,000 miles on it) I am very interested in the electric vehicle (EV) market.
Nissan’s Leaf™ is among the handful of low emission cars that are presently authorized to carry a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker, entitling a single occupant to use the carpool lanes during rush hours – a very nice side benefit to EV ownership that helped speed my commute this week.
My general impression of EV driving is very favorable.
We’ve all seen it happen many times, especially during major events such as the post-thanksgiving Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday sales: gadgets that were expensively priced for early adopters are suddenly affordable and accessible to the average person, which in turn spur a jump in demand. A 55-inch 3D LED TV, for example, that retailed for more than $3000 USD not too long ago now sells for about $1300 (and it comes with a 3D Blu-ray player and 4 sets of 3D glasses!) Similarly, a respectable laptop PC can cost less than $300 USD these days when they were more than $2000 just a couple years back. My 486 desktop computer used to be two grand! Aside from consumer electronics, we’re seeing similar trends of cost reduction in industries such as solar and LED lighting. A photovoltaic (PV) solar module that used to cost more than $5 per watt five years ago now goes for about $1.50 per watt. LED light bulbs for general lighting sold for more than $40 per bulb in hardware stores two years ago now sell for less than $20, and I am sure they will be comparably priced with today’s CFL bulb in the near future.
So how do these incredibly technologically advanced products become so affordable? The answer is technology and scale.
Active matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) displays have been available on high-end smartphones for a while now, and there has been a lot of speculation about when we’ll start to see tablet devices equipped the same screen technology. I would like to take a closer look at why AMOLED technology is so hotly anticipated.
OLED displays use an alternative pixel-lighting mechanism compared to liquid crystal display (LCD) - a mechanism that is simpler in concept and offers advantages over LCD, but introduces numerous technological challenges that display manufacturers are working to overcome.
Below is a brief excerpt of my most recent article on LED manufacturing-execution systems in LEDs Magazine. While an MES for LED fabrication offers a vast array of functional possibilities, my advice is to start with an out-of-the-box solution.
“Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time with LED manufacturers who are looking to purchase a manufacturing software system. Some already have basic components of a system and want to round out their capability with additional features. Others have some disparate data systems and are looking toward an integrated manufacturing-execution system (MES) to provide some holistic data management, equipment management and manufacturing tracking.
There is a lot of easily accessible information available on the Internet, in trade magazines and at conferences and events to help rank MES providers and provide key points to consider during the purchase and implementation processes. This includes advice about handling the potential pitfalls and challenges of MES selection and deployment. However, I’d like to touch on just one very key point that is particularly important to the LED manufacturer: Focus on minimizing customization or feature improvements during initial MES deployment.”
World-wide energy consumption is expected to increase by 40% over the next 20 years, and it is not exactly clear where all this additional energy is going to come from. Equally as puzzling is the surprising fact that most of the energy we produce is lost to the atmosphere as waste heat.
So far, there have been very few compelling solutions for capturing this waste heat and turning it back into useable energy.
A lot more news has been published recently about large LED wafer production. LEDs Magazine reported that Philips Lumileds and Lextar Electronics are now running production on 150-mm wafers and that there is another un-named Asian company using 150-mm sapphire wafers supplied by Rubicon Technology. Rubicon also recently announced the availability of 300-mm Sapphire wafers for LED production. All this makes me think that this is only the first wave in what will be a deluge of announcements for large wafer size production in LED.
These announcements got me thinking about the technology that will be required to support production on these larger size wafers. Is there something small wafer manufacturers can leverage to derive some of the benefits of the larger wafers before they actually transition to these in their factories?
Light emitting diodes (LEDs) look great. They have a long lifetime. They are environmentally benign. And if that weren’t enough, LEDs used for displays and illumination save serious amounts of energy compared to the incumbent technology they aim to replace.
LEDs consume so much less energy that governments around the world are phasing out the use of incandescent bulbs. The implication of this is huge for energy savings. A new report released by the Department of Energy analyzed market segments where LEDs are competing or are poised to compete with traditional light sources (e.g., incandescent and fluorescent) for general illumination applications, outdoor lighting, and consumer electronic displays. The report findings include the following powerful statistics:
Several recent newspaper articles called attention to California’s “ban” on inefficient incandescent bulbs. In reality, what took place on January 1, 2011 was the first stage of California’s early implementation of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which requires incandescent lamps to be more energy efficient. The standards do not ban the manufacture of traditional incandescent lamps, but do require that they be replaced with more energy-efficient versions that produce as much light as the phased-out lamps.
Previously, I wrote about how LED manufacturers were striving to shorten the time between initiating the LED manufacturing process and measuring their performance in an effort to improve the product yields and possibly even boost LED performance.
Certainly one of the keys to making this possible is having rapid access to manufacturing data. There are many ways to gather data for analysis by the process engineers.
In his blog, James Moyne talked about Applied Materials’ software footprint as it relates to crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar production. James highlighted a specific scenario where advanced process control plays an important role in addressing issues associated with solar cell printing. As this type of technology becomes widely adopted, the c-Si solar industry will collectively improve processes and drive the quality and conversion efficiency of the product to new highs.
The LED manufacturing world has an interesting mix of semiconductor technology and c-Si manufacturing practices. This raises the question: can automation software be beneficial—and affordable—for LED production lines? The answer is YES, and I’ll begin to tell you why.
Essentially, Electrochromic smart glass (ESG) is high tech glass that can change its properties according to the salient needs of its environment. The glass can be clear, opaque, tinted or colored, has the capability to modulate heat and light transmission and can be used in a variety of applications.
I am pleased to share that Applied Materials has joined the Energy Research Initiative (ERI), a collaboration created by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) to promote research at leading universities for reliable, affordable, energy-efficient systems.
The ERI is a program designed to create an industry-university partnership to support the development of improved photovoltaic devices, and enable an efficient and reliable smart grid electricity infrastructure with renewable energy resources.
It seems that even the most basic things in life are becoming more sophisticated, but this is not always a bad thing. Food packaging, which we often take for granted, today is a much more “engineered” product than most people imagine. After all, the name of the game is to preserve food freshness while simultaneously heightening our desire to buy that particular product from myriad other choices on the shelf.
In some countries, such as Japan, consumers don’t want flowery packaging, but rather the ability to see the food itself, unhindered by printed text, color schemes or even the barrier films that protect it. Solution: clear barrier packaging that preserve freshness while enabling consumers to see directly through it.