Funding helps Seren light the way in new technology

A HIGH-TECH lighting company spun out of the University of Sheffield has sealed £475,000 of funding to help it win customers among Asian technology giants.

Seren Photonics, which has developed high-brightness light emitting diode (HB LED) technology for use in TVs, architectural lighting and laptops, completed its first funding round to take a step closer to commercialising its products.

The company yesterday revealed it is already in talks with three Far East-based manufacturers.

Seren's new processing technique has been shown to double the light output of LEDs, which either means much brighter lamps, or less power-hungry lamps.

Its patent-pending technology works by greatly increasing the efficiency with which an LED converts electricity into light, reducing the heat generated. It has been shown to reduce the power consumption of start-of-the-art lamps to a single watt.

Seren chairman Dr Godfrey Ainsworth said: "We have made significant progress with the development of this technology in recent months. Incorporation of our process technology into packaged pilot HB LEDs will allow us to demonstrate our product to potential manufacturing partners and early adopters from the potential customer base. We are already engaged in discussions with these parties".

The company was launched earlier this year by Fusion IP, which turns university research into business. Seren is based on the work of Dr Tao Wang, reader in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Wang is leading a research team working on nitride semiconductor-based devices. His novel processing technique combines nanoscience and fundamental physics.

Sheffield-based Fusion IP launched the company in February via its exclusive agreement with the university. It owns 48 per cent of Seren.

Participating investors in the funding round included Fusion IP, IP Group and Dr Drew Nelson, founder and chief executive of global semiconductor firm IQE plc.

The money will be used to buy equipment and complete several pilot-scale manufacturing cycles. The resulting HB LEDs will be used as demonstration products to showcase its technology to manufacturers.

Fusion IP chief executive David Baynes said: "Seren continues to make excellent progress and we are excited by the results to date. There is a huge potential market for their revolutionary technology and we remain confident that the light output, which is already double untreated devices, will be significantly increased as the process is optimised."

The market for HB LEDs is forecast to rocket from an estimated $5bn to reach $12.4bn in 2013.

Its growth is driven by the shift away from incandescent light bulbs as a result of environmental concerns and the need to cut power consumption.

The largest market for HB LEDs is currently mobile phones, automotive and large outdoor displays. However, trends show an increasing market for HB LEDs in state-of-the-art LED TVs, laptops and general lighting.

Growth within portable computers has mainly been driven by lightweight and lower-cost 'netbooks', which mainly use LED backlights.

Big TV manufacturers of the likes of Samsung, Sony, LG, Sharp, JVC and Toshiba are increasingly rolling out flat-screen TVs with LED screens. Although more expensive than their LCD (liquid crystal display) equivalents, they tend to be thinner and less power-hungry.

Seren appointed Dr Ainsworth chairman earlier this year. He has considerable knowledge of the semiconductor industry through his 20-year relationship with IQE, of which he is non-executive chairman.

"The solid state lighting sector is about to undergo explosive growth and we believe that Dr Wang and his team has what could be a hugely exciting technology, capable of significantly improving the efficiency of LEDs," he said at the time.

Fusion IP has stakes in more than 20 university spin-outs from its exclusive deals with Sheffield and Cardiff universities.

Of its companies, Sheffield-based Simcyp was the most profitable. It simulates how the body deals with new drugs in development, allowing pharmaceutical companies to analyse how a drug is absorbed and used before clinical trials start.