Group IV Semiconductor, a Kanata-based company, said this tiny chip would be placed into a bulb casing to make a light that wouldn't have to be changed for several years. ((Julia Kilpatrick/CBC))

An Ottawa company is working to create a new type of energy-efficient light that could be superior to both energy-wasting incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescents.

Group IV Semiconductor, based in Kanata in Ottawa's west end, is currently developing a silicon-based microchip that emits light.

Right now, 20 per cent of North America's total electricity is used to produce light.

Tom MacElwee, who works in the company's research lab, said that someday, chips like the one he's working on could light homes and offices around the world.

"We really are dealing here with uncharted waters. You can't go and look this up in a book," he said.

The paper-thin wafer MacElwee describes is covered in a special solution developed in the company's lab. Once a current runs through the chip to the coating, it glows.


Tom MacElwee, who works in the lab that is developing the chip, said the company is working to find its way through uncharted waters. ((Julia Kilpatrick/CBC))

Unlike most of the light bulbs on the market today, it requires no wires, vacuum chambers or mercury.

The concept is similar to LED (Light-emitting diode) lighting because in both cases a solid material (thus solid-state lighting) produces the light people see rather than through a gas or filament as in other lighting.

The solid material used in LED lighting, however, is more expensive than the silicon-based solid material used in Group IV's light-emitting microchips.

Stephen Naor, the chief executive officer of Group IV Semiconductor, said that saving energy isn't the only environmental concern people should have when it comes to lighting their homes.

"As the world moves to more energy-efficient lighting, my fear is that we're trading off energy savings — which is good — for problems about toxic waste and mercury in landfills," said Naor.

Each light bulb his company will create, said Naor, should last several years.

Production, however, is still a few years off, he said.

The company's researchers still have to figure out how to increase the brightness of the chips, and the company's executives still need to raise the millions of dollars required to get the new technology to the market.