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Seth Coe-Sullivan: Improving LED Light Through Quantum Dots

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According to the UN Environment Programme, switching to energy efficient lighting could be one of the most significant short-term initiatives to counter climate change1. In addition, it would save everyone a lot of money. In the US alone, the switch to energy efficient lighting could save $19.8 billion dollars annually, reduce electrical consumption for lighting by 36.6%, and reduce CO2 emissions by 111.8 million tons per year.

One of the best energy efficient lighting technologies on the market is the Light Emitting Diode, commonly known as LED lamps. LEDs outshines their closest competitor, the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), on longevity and brightness. They are also more environmentally friendly than the CFLs since they do not contain mercury, which has become a landfill and recycling problem. The one drawback of LEDs is that they emit a harsh light that is unpleasant to the eye. This is where Seth Coe-Sullivan's company, QD Vision, comes in.

Seth Coe-Sullivan, who will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in June, is an engineer, nanotech entrepreneur, and proponent of green chemistry. After receiving his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at MIT, Coe-Sullivan founded a company with four colleagues based on his research into the properties of quantum dots. In his words, "Quantum dots (QDs) are a new class of materials designed on the nanoscale, where we use quantum mechanics to change the color of the material without changing the chemical composition of the material." Today QDs are used in Sony LCD televisions, which help Sony deliver superior color quality and have a beneficial environmental impact. "We can deliver light where the human eye wants it more efficiently than any other material, and so TVs with high color quality can consume less power, and hence reduce the net environmental carbon, heavy metals, and electricity consumption of TVs, which are otherwise consuming more and more of the typical home's power budget," says Coe-Sullivan.

In the future, this technology could be used to modify the light of LED light bulbs too, to make these environmental champions pleasing to the eye. Here is how it works:

Coe-Sullivan is a strong proponent of nanotechnology's potential for positive impact on the environment through innovation. He sees an opportunity in the emergence of nanomaterials to "become a living case study" showing us "that our society doesn't have to wait for an environmental disaster to begin a science-based regulatory process that enables us to benefit from new materials without having the sometimes associated negative impacts." Others share this proactive view, and have identified the need for research into the unique nature of nanomaterials to inform policies, procedures, and the development of greener nanotechnology. At QD Vision, Coe-Sullivan established a strong Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) policy which  led to a focus on greening the product.

"My interest in the EH&S impacts of nanotech stem from the first time my company was hiring people not otherwise involved in the field.  In putting them in the lab developing these materials, we had to be sure that we weren't putting them into harm's way. From occupational safety, it was a natural continuum to start looking at the product safety and environmental safety aspects of our materials and products, so that we could develop them in a responsible manner and design safer products. The green chemistry actions were an even easier fit, where making our chemistry green also meant making our costs lower and our material efficiencies higher. We had a green chemistry program before any of us knew to use the words."

QD Vision is now nine years old and Coe-Sullivan is confident in the company’s progress: "QD Vision has launched Color IQ, a line of optical component products that are currently in TVs, and are being designed into displays of all types from 17" and up. The big opportunity for QDs in displays is to transition from a high-end feature into the mainstream of the market, from TVs to tablets." Indeed, this is a big market. According to Global Industry Analysts, the market for flat panel displays is expected to reach $110 billion by 2017. We look forward to hearing more from Dr. Coe-Sullivan at the 18th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, June 17-19, 2914 in the Washington DC area. Find out more at

1United Nations Environment Programme (2012). Achieving the global transition to energy efficient lighting toolkit. Accessed March 24, 2014:

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