The father of the LED is now looking to revolutionize the industry he helped create. Soraa, a Silicon Valley startup co-founded by Shuji Nakamura — who created the blue laser and the white LED — officially unveiled the technology behind its LED innovation on Tuesday. The company, which is backed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, has developed a new way to manufacturer an LED light that produces a light that is brighter, has a better quality, is more energy efficient, and saves more money than its competitors on the market.
The first light Soraa is launching is a lamp to replace a halogen bulb (called an MR16), which are commonly used in places like recessed ceiling lights and spot lights on products in stores and venues. These aren’t lamps for the everyday home owner, and Soraa is targeting commercial and industrial building owners first, before it moves to the residential market.
During an interview with Soraa CEO Eric Kim at Soraa’s factory, Kim explained to me that “light is not a commodity,” as he showed me the light from the Soraa lamp in comparison to a variety of LED competitors including giants like Philips that also make halogen replacement LEDs. Indeed in the various tests the bright white light displayed a far better quality, consistency, color and angle than the comparison light.
That type of quality would be pretty cool on its own. But Soraa’s LED light is also highly energy efficient. It uses about 75 percent less energy than incandescent and halogen bulbs, and lasts 25 times longer than halogen bulbs. For a company that’s buying lighting for a commercial building, a Soraa light can deliver a year pay back period in energy savings, said Kim.
How does it work?
Soraa’s secret sauce lies in the startup’s early bet on using the semiconductor gallium nitride for the substrate part of the light. LEDs are usually made by putting gallium nitride onto sapphire of silicon carbide substrates. But Soraa’s light places gallium nitride onto a gallium nitride substrate, enabling the core of the light itself to create better uniformity. Soraa says the combo is more cost effective and can produce more light per lamp than the traditional methods.
While the tech sounds like a perfect thing to license to the big players, Soraa is making the big bet that it can be a vertically-integrated LED manufacturer, making the substrate, chip, packaging and entire light solution. That’s always a slight risk, because that can be capital intensive, but on the other hand, the payoff and potential are a lot higher when you own the whole value chain.
Soraa is currently moving into volume commercial production at its factory in Fremont, Calif. Kim tells me at the company’s current fab, it will be able to turn into a $400 million revenue per year company.
Soraa, which was founded in 2008, is backed by Khosla Ventures, NEA and NGEN Partners and has raised over $100 million in funding.