OLED lighting works by passing electricity through one or more incredibly thin layers of organic semiconductors. These layers are sandwiched between two electrodes – one positively charged and one negatively. The ‘sandwich’ is placed on a sheet of glass or other transparent material called a ‘substrate’.

When current is applied to the electrodes, they emit positively and negatively charged holes and electrons. These combine in the middle layer of the sandwich and create a brief, high-energy state called ‘excitation’. As this layer returns to its original, stable, ‘non-excited’ state, the energy flows evenly through the organic film, causing it to emit light. Using different materials in the organic films makes it possible for the OLEDs to emit different colored light.

The OLEDs currently available are mounted on glass. So far, glass is the only transparent substrate that sufficiently protects the material inside from the effects of moisture and air. However, scientists at Philips Research are investigating ways to make soft plastic substrates that will provide the necessary protection. This will open the way for bendable and moldable OLED lighting panels, making it possible for any surface area – flat or curved – to become a light source. We could see the development of luminous walls, curtains, ceilings and even furniture. Flexible OLED panels are likely to become available within 6 years.

Today, OLEDs generally have a reflective, mirror-like surface when not illuminated. Another current area of research is on the development of completely transparent OLEDs, which will open many new doors in application possibilities. Transparent OLED panels will be able to function as ordinary windows during the day, and light up after dark, either mimicking natural light, or providing attractive interior lighting. During the day, they could also function as privacy shields in homes or offices. Look out for transparent OLED panels within the next 2 years.

Product Performance (2012)

» up to 45 lm/W in different shades of white and RGB
» up to 4,000 cd/m2 brightness
» up to 15,000 hours lifetime (at 50% initial brightness)
» 1.8 mm thin
» <100 cm surface

As a rule of thumb: we expect the efficiency to double every 2-3 years.

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