Bio-inspired LEDs leverage fluorescent proteins

February 03, 2020 //By Julien Happich
fluorescent proteins
What if bacteria could produce cheaper, sustainable, and safer colour filters for LEDs? Asks Rubén D. Costa, Head of the Hybrid Optoelectronic Materials & Devices Lab at IMDEA Materiales, coordinator of the ENABLED project (Engineering of Artificial fluorescent proteins for Biological Light Emitting Diodes).

Awarded almost 3 million euros of funds within the European program FET-OPEN (Frontier Emerging Technologies) framework, the ENABLED project aims to create a new generation of colour filters based on fluorescent proteins genetically enhanced to reach the performance needed for LED lighting.

Today, LED lamps consist of a blue-emitting chip and an optical filter made of inorganic phosphors, rare earth minerals that transforms blue light into white light. This filter does not efficiently convert blue light, causing serious implications on visual acuity in children and sleep disorder in adults. Moreover, inorganic phosphors are quite scarce and localized in a few countries, they are listed as one of the 27 critical raw materials by the European Union. And if global demand for LEDs rises as expected, analysts anticipate that global reserves of inorganic phosphor will run out in 10-15 years.

Fluorescent proteins (right) in a Bio-LED (left).

Hence the ENABLED project involving researchers from Spain, Italy and Austria will seek to replace inorganic phosphor filters in LEDs by bio-engineered fluorescent proteins inspired from those found deep down the sea. Three out of four sea creatures produce high power light using protein filters for hunting, communication or self-protection purposes. One major hurdle for the practical use of such proteins in LED lighting is to preserve them outside their aquatic environment.

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