Concocting a recipe for the LED

White light isn't easy to make. This phosphor could ease the process.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read

Think of Intematix as a paint store for the energy market.

The company has come up with a way to quickly devise formulas for phosphors for light emitting diodes. Phosphors are essentially a coating for LED lights: put the right kind of phosphor over a blue LED and you get white light. The LED can then be put into a bulb or a lamp to light a room.

An LED handbag Wiedamark.com

The problem is that blue LEDs, which get produced in massive numbers at chip factories, aren't uniform, according to Dave Epstein, a partner at Crosslink Capital and an investor in Intematix. Some LEDs emit light of a certain wavelength; other ones in the same manufacturing batch will pump out light of a different one. To ensure that the light that comes out of the end product--LED lights--is uniform, the phosphors have to be tweaked to correspond to the LEDs. (I interviewed Dave at lunch on Tuesday in San Francisco. It's part of a tour through the VC firms with food thrown in.)

To date, tweaking the phosphor has involved chemical tinkering: add some cadmium here, some nickel there, and ease up on the eye of newt. Intematix says it can cut the recipe tinkering time by around 90 percent through its Discovery Engine, a prototyping system that narrows down the search for a formula. It then makes powders from the formula and sells it.

In a sense, it's sort of like going to Sherwin-Williams and trying to get a complimentary color for the trim on a wall that's coated with Swiss Coffee N322 right now: Harvest Gold is too stark and Yemeni Sunset seems washed out. Don't worry. The guy behind the counter can blend it.

LEDs right now represent only a fraction of the lighting market, but the segment is expected to grow. Several governments are thinking about banning energy-hogging incandescent bulbs in favor of things like compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or LEDs. CFLs are far more popular right now and have their adherents, but LEDs are expected to improve in performance and drop in price.

Intematix has signed deals with a couple of Asian manufacturers. Samsung Ventures is also an investor.