Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Partnerships and Technology Transfer

Success Stories

LED North America Receives Exclusive Patent License for ORNL Technology

Light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are increasingly in demand in industrial and commercial applications because of their comparatively low energy consumption, compact size, and long life expectancy. They come with a high price tag, though, so to make them attractive to a broader consumer base, they will have to give the best performance for the dollar. One surprising way to increase their value is to lower their temperature.

Heat is the primary enemy of LEDs. In fact, each 10-degree decrease in temperature can double the life of the lighting components. A graphite foam technology developed by James Klett of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division and currently being marketed by Koppers and Poco Graphite may soon make such cooling possible. By incorporating graphite foam, which has very high thermal conductivity and low weight and is easily machinable, important internal components of these lamps can be passively cooled to enhance their efficiency and longevity.

To commercialize this technology, ORNL has entered into an exclusive patent license with LED North America, which intends to use the graphite foam to cool components in LEDs used in street lamps and similar applications, enabling the company to offer longer warranty periods than its competitors. 

Recently Andrew Wilhelm, one of the company's founders, decided to locate the company in Tech2020, a business incubator in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That decision brought with it several advantages. One is that he is able to take advantage of the numerous resources offered by Tech2020's Center for Entrepreneurial Growth to its client companies, such as assistance in obtaining funding and access to experienced executives who can offer valuable advice. Another is that by being in proximity to ORNL, he is able to work closely with Klett to further refine the integration of the graphite foam material into the LED lamps.

Other technologies for cooling of LED lamps are available, but LED North America chose the graphite foam due to its exceptional thermal conductivity and easy machinability, which greatly increase design flexibility. In addition, other materials used for heat sinks, such as copper and aluminum, are heavier, more expensive, and less efficient than graphite foam.

GVC 2010

Views of the LED light housing