Simply put, photonics is the science of light. This includes all applications of light, ranging from emission and transmission to modulation, signal processing and detecting. Today, the photonics industry is lighting the way with new and unique solutions where conventional technology is reaching its limits. Photonics holds the future for applications in areas as vast as medicine and LEDs to laser-based manufacturing and IT services for optical networks and computers.
A trusted partner for the photonics industry
At Air Liquide, we know photonics is a sensitive science that demands high-purity gases and stable gas mixtures, as well as dedicated equipment and installations to preserve gas purity. Our expertise in this area makes us indispensable for manufacturers of fiber optic materials and LEDs, for example.
Delivering the right amount of gas at the right purity level
We draw on our skilled business developers and teams in Research & Development to design solutions tailored to businesses with short life cycles. As a gas expert, we ensure reliable and safe supply chain and the ability to deliver the right amount of gas at the right purity level to meet our customers’ specific requirements.
“Photons will make possible what we cannot achieve today even with the best electronics components available.”
The 21st century will be the century of the photon, just as the 20th century was the century of the electron. Photons have unique properties that give them an advantage over electrons. Not only are they massless, but they are also ultrafast, moving at the speed of light. You can direct and focus light (using lenses), without any physical contact, which is not the case with electrons.
Another advantage is that photons are free of electrical charge, which means they can be used in dangerous areas where a spark would otherwise initiate an explosion. For this reason photonics-based sensors can improve safety in oil and gas environments.
Some examples of the applications of photonics include in fiber optics to facilitate high-speed global communication, light bulbs, where LEDs are up to 85% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, infrared sensors and car manufacturing, which uses high-powered lasers.
What are some of the future applications in the Photonics field?
Photons will make possible what we cannot achieve today even with the best electronics components available. Consider three applications of infrared sensors. With bio-photonics for life sciences and healthcare, we are looking at how new sensors could more quickly detect cancer and other diseases, through analyzing what is emitted by your breath.
Secondly, in terms of the environment, today it is very hard to analyze outside pollution compounds. If we could detect these with infrared we could analyze air pollution faster and more cost-effectively.
Third, there are applications in terms of safety. At airports for example, in the future we could use infrared sensing to detect hidden weapons, which will makes flights safer.
How might this new technology enable growth for Air Liquide and the global gas market?
The global market for photonics is expected to grow 6-7% annually over the next five years, with some niche markets growing even faster. If we look at all photonic sensors, including LEDs, almost all of these need pure gases, specialty gases, specialized equipment and expertise, all of which Air Liquide can provide. And with our new ultra high purity ammonia plant in Jiangsu province, China, we are well positioned to be the best gas partner for LED players. We will also leverage on our new helium sourcing contract with Qatar II, especially for the fiber optic market.
For the photonics industry, Air Liquide is a one-stop shop capable of supplying a wide range of gases – helium, hydrogen, ultra high purity ammonia (UHP ammonia) – and air gases, as well as related equipment such as wet chemical dispenser units, gas cabinets and distribution systems.
The first step in manufacturing fiber optics is producing preform, a silica glass rod. Hydrogen, oxygen and helium are all used to consolidate the preform, which is then melted in a furnace and drawn into fiber optics at a rate of 1,500 to 2,000m per minute. Helium is then used to cool the drawn fiber efficiently. We supply these gases at ultra high purities to support fiber optics manufacturers.
Material used for white and blue LEDs needs one nitrogen atom. This is where UHP ammonia steps in during the deposition phase of production. In liquid form at room temperature, ammonia must be heated to be used in gaseous phase. To allow our customers to use larger volumes of this gas, we have developed an induction-based heating solution to vaporize UHP ammonia more efficiently.
Air Liquide provides a comprehensive gas solution, including equipment and installations, for the production of LED.