LG Chem's big OLED breakthrough will have to wait

It's always a bold move when a company commits to a time for releasing a yet-to-be completed product. It raises expectations, and potentially sets up the embarrassment of missing the target.

Just ask LG Chem.

Last September, it said that by November – two months later – it would start shipping OLED panels that match LEDs in energy efficiency, operating at 100 lumens per watt and also rated with a lifetime close to that of an LED.

The autumn leaves fell and November came, but the OLED panel did not.

Not that the South Korean powerhouse has been slacking. In recent weeks, it has made a couple of whopping moves in OLEDs, unveiling the world's largest OLED panel, and showing off what it says is the largest end user installation of OLEDs, at Seoul National University's new library. And LG Chem says it is now offering as many as nine different OLED panels, most of which it describes on its website.

But what about the breakthrough OLED that the Korean press widely reported would be available in November, rated at an LED-comparable 100 lumens per watt (lm/W), and with a lifetime of 40,000 hours, approaching the 50,000 often ascribed to LEDs?

'LG Chem is currently producing 100lm/W panels and providing samples to customers,' a spokesperson told Lux.

Samples are one thing. But shipments are another. So, if not last November, then when?

'Mass production of the product is expected to start in April next year,' the spokesperson said, noting that testing indicates the panel will last 40,000 hours at 3,000 candelas per square metre.

OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) are meant to be the next big thing in lighting since LEDs. They liberate lighting from the bulb form factor, because they are patches of material that emit light, and in some instances they are bendable. Designers could build them not only into luminaires, but also into furniture, walls, buildings, bridges, clothing and elsewhere.

But developers have struggled to lower manufacturing costs and to make to make them as energy efficient as LEDs. And since energy efficiency is the major selling point of LEDs, it behooves OLED makers to at least come close to LEDs. The OLEDs at the center of LG's two recent announcements perform at 60 lumens per watt, which is only a little more than half the efficiency of LEDs.

Meanwhile, LED makers continue to find ways to design their products into structures, or to liberate them from traditional bulb form factors when called for. In one quirky example, Philips makes a ping pong paddle shaped bulb that eliminates the heat sink required by LED bulbs.  

We've been trying to find out more about the setback in the 100 lm/W timetable, but so far LG Chem has not elaborated. We don't yet know exactly what has caused the delay, but we'll write more as we learn it. We're just not saying when. That would be too bold.

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Photo is from LG Chem's website

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