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Bright future for European photonics

The future’s bright for Europe, if a new report is anything to go by. The study, issued by the Photonics21 technology platform and the European Commission, reports that at €49bn the value European photonics market has now drawn level with the semiconductor industry, and is now set to overtake it with an annual growth rate of 7.6 per cent.

With a 19 per cent share of the global industry, Europe is a major player in worldwide photonics market. ‘It’s one sector where Europe is in the lead,’ Martin Goetzeler, president of Osram, told electrooptics.com. One of Photonics21’s key objectives is maintain this position. ‘It’s why we think photonics is an area where funding needs to be placed,’ adds Goetzeler.

In addition to improving industrial production technique, photonics technology shows signs of playing an increasingly important role in two key areas of concern for Europe: environmental conservation, and healthcare.

In particular, energy-efficient LEDs and OLED lighting is a popular area of research supported by the platform, which should help to reduce carbon emissions in the future. ‘LEDs and OLEDs will be a major shift in lighting as we move forward,’ says Goetzeler. Laser technology is also essential for the production of solar cells to provide a renewable source of energy. ‘We must increase our efforts to drive the technology. It’s a hard-sell to make people aware that this is an necessary for the world to become an energy efficient place.’

A lot of research is also being devoted to the use of photonics in the life sciences where it can be used for diagnosis, for in vivo imaging applications, and as a tool for operations, where lasers can prove to be less painful and less intrusive than other techniques.

Peter Leibinger, president of the Trumpf Laser Division, who attended the Photonics21 annual meeting that accompanied the release of the report, believes there are currently two important trends in laser technology: an increasing diversity in available laser products, and a reduction in the price of high-power lasers. ‘The spectrum of available lasers is being stretched. We are seeing sources that would have seemed inconceivable 10 years ago,’ he told electrooptics.com.

Members attending the meeting also noted the importance of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Europe’s photonics industry. The smaller companies, which provide very specialised, often custom built instruments, help Europe to stay ahead of other markets such as Asia by providing a highly skilled workforce to drive the photonics technology.

However, this prominence may not last much longer unless decisive action is taken with our education systems. Many children are now deciding not to study the sciences and engineering, and this could soon leave us with a shortage of skilled scientists to continue this important research. ‘The problem is not enough people are going into engineering,’ said Rosalie Zobel, the director of the Information Society and Media: Components and Systems at the European Commission. ‘We have to make sure kids love science, by teaching it early-on at school.’

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