If you are not familiar with quantum dots, you soon will be. No, it’s not a new dessert or candy. Quantum dots occupy a special place in the world of nanotechnology that in itself is not a household term. But QD Vision, an entrepreneurial venture started in 2005, is on the edge of something big – changing the way we see things. At the heart of this is the company’s vision to shed new light on everything for less cost, with more efficiency, in a way that is more compatible with natural illumination. By dramatically cutting energy and related costs being consumed by mainstream lighting systems, QD Vision’s new lighting system could be a very exciting game changer.
QD Vision’s Daniel Button, Ph.D., a proven technologist turned CEO, is leading the company’s efforts to take their Quantum Light™ product platform to market in an era of high expectations that nanotechnology can finally achieve traction in a for-profit venture. QD Vision’s new product platform exploits the “unique light-emitting properties of semiconductor nanocrystals to deliver a step-change in performance for LED-based products.”
“When I came to QD Vision three years ago, there was an eagerness to get to market” Dan explained. “Every company who gains government research funding – as we did some years ago – wants to ‘prove’ to everyone that their confidence was well founded. But it took us a couple years to come to feel solid about our value proposition.”
“We now have hard data,” Dan stated, “and we have our first product launch well underway We have an experienced marketing team from the Boston area, and have succeeded in attracting star employees who are all top talent in their field.”
Being a start-up in these challenging economic times is a tough job – yet the company has raised more than $33 million from top-tier venture capital firms. And recently QD Vision got some big-time brand support when President Obama visited MIT to look at the new achievements in “cleantech”, and latched onto QD Vision’s Quantum Light™ product (see below). “That was just an incredible stroke of good fortune for the company. This fueled a buzz that was well on its way with our joint unveiling of product with Nexxus and extensive media recognition. We specifically targeted building a cleantech brand when we initiated our first design-in relationship in lighting a year ago,” Dan said. “So, we began building our brand reputation in cleantech. But, seriously, the rocket fuel comes when you have an actual breakthrough product going to market.”
So what is this exciting breakthrough first product? For starters, you have to understand that our long-time friend, the good old incandescent light bulb, has a big strength and a big weakness. On the plus side, incandescent lighting provides a chromatic spectrum that is fairly close to sunlight, so lit objects look ‘natural’, food and people look healthy, merchandise in the store looks vibrant the way it will in natural light. On the minus side, however, incandescent is terribly inefficient, producing only about 10 lumens of light per watt of power. Enter LED lighting, which offers much greater efficiency – but with a trade-off in color range. So while it’s great to save the energy, the illuminated environment looks cooler and bluer than natural, people look paler and not quite as healthy, food looks less appetizing, and merchandise less appealing.
That’s where the new product comes in, providing the best of both worlds. Quantum dots are ‘excited’ by other sources of light (or by electricity, but that’s a story for another issue); and once excited, they fluoresce in their own color, with that color depending on the size of the nanocrystal. In one way it may seem like a filter, because light of one color comes in, and light of another color comes out. But in a filter that transformation comes by blocking out part of the light, so you actually need more lighting power to start with in order to get the desired level after filtering out part of it (i.e. you waste energy). And filters can only take colors away – if the colors you want weren’t part of the spectrum to begin with, filters can’t change that.
By contrast, quantum dots, since their chromatic range is broader than any other artificial light technology, can be finely tuned to any ‘recipe’ of color range. You can ‘put in’ any color that sufficiently excites the dots (i.e. any higher energy light), and ‘get out’ exactly the color you want by using the right recipe. So QD Vision made an optic element that adds a layer of carefully-tuned quantum dots to shift the energy-efficient LED lighting back into the comfortable, healthy-looking natural range of color – without any additional power. Lower energy, higher quality. Voila!
One of QD Vision’s key strategic marketing moves was to partner with Nexxus, a lighting innovation leader that manufactures and distributes LED-based replacement lamps. “Everything changed when we hooked up with them. We began to get great coverage in the lighting industry. We already had a number of research and design awards on the wall, and now we are adding product awards for our new Quantum Light™ Platform.” The company received the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Award, and was named the Emerging Company of the Year in 2009 by the New England Clean Energy Council, in addition to the AlwaysOn Cleantech and Public Sector awards. The company is a finalist today for the famous Edison Award. Needless to say, the simple color-shift product is just the tip of the quantum dot iceberg.
Another key strategic move was to reposition the company’s expertise and portfolio from its ‘nanotech’ foundation to a ‘cleantech’ emphasis, focusing on the growing popularity (and necessity) of industrial and commercial solutions which consume less power and produce less toxic waste. In the explanation of lighting technologies outlined above, we skipped over the increasing use of “twisty lights”, the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that use less energy, but unfortunately use mercury, and so replace the energy problem with a toxic waste problem. LED lights are ‘cleantech’ because they meet both requirements of low energy and low toxic waste. “The bottom line is that no one previously has taken quantum dots (nanotech) to the bank,” explained Dan, “but cleantech holds tremendous commercial promise because it solves big problems. And the QD Vision products are EPA approved and ROHS compliant (Reduction of Hazardous Substances).”
Quantum dots may not look like your typical after-dinner dessert, but to QD Vision and it’s investors, it tastes pretty good all the same!
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