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disruption LED

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano win Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 for the blue LED

Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 for the blue GaN LED

by Gerhard Fasol

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano enabled the global lighting revolution

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded in equal shares to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.

While red and green LEDs were invented long ago, efficient blue LEDs did not exist until Akasaki’s, Amano’s and Nakamura’s long series of inventions. Blue LEDs are needed to create white light.

The invention of blue GaN based LEDs enables the global lighting revolution. By replacing legacy light bulbs, fluorescent tubes etc by GaN LEDs, a big fraction of the world’s electricity can be saved, and the effect is even bigger in the developing world where still today many people use extremely expensive oil for lighting. Read a detailed analysis of the economics of lighting here.

The mainstream blue-LED scientific community was working on a dead-end: II-VI compounds

Of course the importance of blue LEDs was understood for a long time, and in the 1980s and 1990s all major industrial and University labs were working towards this holy grail – Hitachi, SONY, Philips, IBM, lots of Universities in Europe and US and elsewhere had groups working towards blue LEDs – but they all worked on II-VI compounds, which turned out to be a dead end.

The way much (not all – and thats the way towards Nobel Prize class discoveries) of mainstream established incremental research works, in most established labs, to get peer reviewed grants for research towards blue LEDs in the 1980s, this had to be II-VI work.

It needed strong willed people as Shuji, Akasaki and Amano to take a totally different approach outside the mainstream. Its to the credit of JST and other Japanese funding agencies to have supported Amano and Akasaki’s work. Shuji on the other hand ‘only’ had one person to convince: the owner and founder of Nichia Mr Nobuo Ogawa- and did I say that Shuji did not have a PhD at that time?

Which research agency would give a couple of million $ to a researcher without a PhD but with a big almost unreachable target who still has to learn the methods (MOCVD in this case) to work towards this target – other than Mr Nobuo Ogawa?

Shuji Nakamura actually introduced me to Mr Nobuo Ogawa in Anan (Tokushima-ken), and we had several curry lunches in a restaurant next to Nichia Chemical Industries Headquarters. I asked Nichia-Chairman and Founder Nobuo Ogawa how he decided at the time to fund Shuji Nakamura’s one-year stay at the University of Florida in Professor Ramaswamy’s group to learn MOCVD (by the way Professor Ramaswamy was my office-neighbour when I was Associate Professor on the NTT Telecommunications Chair at Tokyo University), and fund Shuji Nakamura’s work to the tune of many US$ million, which at that time was a large fraction of Nichia’s overall sales.

To my question how Mr Nobuo Ogawa took the decision to support Shuji Nakamura, Mr Nobuo Ogawa simply answered: “How did you chose your wife, Gerhard?”.

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano worked on III-V compounds and achieved the lighting breakthrough

While the mainstream scientific blue-LED community worked with high intensity towards this dead end without knowing that they devoted their lives and their students to a dead-end, Akasaki and Amano over many years painstakingly solved one problem after another to create electronic devices based on the III-V compound semiconductor GaN and its variations.

Shuji Nakamura then built on Akasaki and Amano’s work, solved the three major and many many minor problems remaining to create commercially viable blue LEDs. But the work did not stop there: Shuji Nakamura also created white LEDs, UV LEDs, blue Lasers (e.g. for SONY’s blue-ray DVD players and displays) and a lot more. (read about Shuji Nakamura’s breakthrough work in great technical detail here: The Blue Laser Diode)

Shuji Nakamura, Nichia Kagaku Kougiyou and releasing Japan’s creative power

Shuji Nakamura was also a very diligent writer of patents and wrote a large number of very strong patents. These inventions together with patents propelled his then employer Nichia Kagaku Kougiou from a maker of phosphors (which were used for cathode ray tubes and fluorescent tubes) to one of the most important semiconductor companies. For these inventions, Nichia paid Shuji Nakamura a salary approximately on the level of a Japanese primary school teacher, plus a few US$ 100 bonus for the inventions.

Lets not go into the law suits between Nichia and Shuji Nakamura here, but let me say, that I have never found the complete story explained in the media. Most media reports give a very incomplete picture of the true story of the law suits between Nichia and Shuji Nakamura. – I guess most media just copy from each other in this case…

I noticed Shuji Nakamura’s work first around 1992 at the Japanese Applied Physics Conference in Nagoya, where Shuji gave a talk about his GaN work. I visited Shuji a couple of times in Anan (Tokushima-ken), he introduced me to the founder of Nichia, Mr Nobuo Ogawa, without who’s support Shuji’s work would have been impossible. With Nobuo Ogawa’s death, Shuji decided to move to the USA, to Santa Barbara, where he is working today. Interestingly, when Shuji was looking for a job, he had lots of offers from USA, but none from Europe and none from Japan… Why that?

Shuji developed deep insights about issues holding back Japan, and has shared his advice on many occasions, including also the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum, which I annually organize in Tokyo as a leadership platform. Read about his talk here, where Shuji passionately calls for changes – even a revolution – in Japan, to unshackle Japan’s creative energies.

To learn more about the Blue GaN LEDs and lasers, and their invention:

and of course you can also read Shuji Nakamura’s, Isamu Akasaki’s and Hiroshi Amano’s 100s or even 1000s of original scientific publications.

Shuji Nakamura talking passionately at the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum in Tokyo 2013
Shuji Nakamura talking passionately at the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum in Tokyo 2013

Copyright (c) 2014 Eurotechnology Japan KK All Rights Reserved

Categories
Renewable energy

Solar Japan: Japan approves a full Germany worth of renewable energy in a single month

Solar Japan: some of the world’s most attractive feed-in-tariffs

In the single month of March 2014 Japan approved almost as much renewable energy projects as all solar ever installed in Germany

Japan’s ten regional electricity monopoly operators traditionally kept renewable energy below 1% following an unwritten rule. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) kept renewable well below this magic 1% limit – until recently TEPCO’s renewable energy ratio was about 0.05%, slightly “greener” than Kansai, and Shikoku Electrical Power Companies with 0.03% renewables, and Chugoku Electrical Power Company with 0.02% of renewables in their energy mix.

Complete reversal of Japan’s previous “no renewables” strategy

Switching off all nuclear power stations combined with extremely high natural gas (LNG) prices forced change of this “no renewables” strategy in Japan, and Japan quickly moved in the opposite direction with some of the highest feed-in-tariffs globally, about three times higher than in Germany. (To understand the details of LNG costs and prices for Japan, read our Japan Energy Report, where you’ll find month-by-month data of Japan’s coal and gas payments, as well as the price developments and the reasons for the extraordinarily high prices Japan pays for LNG and LPG).

solar japan : Driven by high LNG costs Japan approves almost as much solar energy projects in a single month as ever installed in Germany
Driven by high LNG costs Japan approves almost as much solar energy projects in a single month as ever installed in Germany

Solar plants ever installed in Germany total about 36.5 GigaWatt – Japan almost approved as much renewables in the single month of March 2014

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) published detailed data of solar energy projects installed and approved for subsidy in Germany. As of May 31, 2014, all solar power ever installed and approved for subsidy in Germany amounts to 36.5 GigaWatt (peak). The figure above shows that Japan’s Industry Ministry METI approved about 26.7 GigaWatt of solar projects under the feed-in-tariff program during the single month of March 2014 alone.

Here are the actual figures of renewable electrical power projects approved by METI under the FIT program during the single month of March 2014 alone:

solar projects less than 10kW: 159,070kW = 0.16GW
solar projects over 10kW: 26,521,483kW = 26.5GW
Subtotal solar (all sizes): 26,680,553kW = 26.7GW
Total all types of renewable energy: 27,436,598kW = 27.4GW

The figure also shows that March 2014 is somewhat an anomaly – because feed-in-tariffs are reduced each year on April 1 at the beginning of the new financial year, METI cooperates with applicants to approve large numbers of applications during the last month of the previous tariff. Thus renewable project applications in Japan have developed an annual rhythm.

“Renewable energy Japan” research report

Copyright 2014 Eurotechnology Japan KK All Rights Reserved