Skip to main content

CoeLux: the sky light reconstruction in artificial illumination by means of solid transparent nanocomposites

Final ReportSummary - COELUX (The sky light reconstruction in artificial illumination by means of solid transparent nanocomposites)

The quality of artificial illumination is a major concern in developed and developing societies, where the structure of work areas, malls, community and sport centres, railway stations, airports, etc. forces a rapidly increasing fraction of the population to spend more and more of their time deprived of natural lighting. In many cases living space do not allow for the presence of windows or skylights, which would grant users the comfort deriving from visual contact with the external environment. When only artificial lighting is present, the space is felt as an isolated recess, disconnected from natural rhythms and unresponsive to the basic human demand of having a relationship to light which is more than just quantitative. The problem is particularly relevant for northern (or southern) regions, where natural illumination is lacking for a large part of the year. It is especially relevant also for those areas characterised by unfavourable climatic conditions, e.g. due to very high or low temperature, where the construction of underground living areas is becoming more and more frequent in order to fulfil energy-saving requirements. The situation is destined to become even more dramatic in the near future, and involves domestic lighting too, owing to the scheduled massive replacement of incandescent illumination by fluorescent-lamp or white-LED technologies. While these are indeed an improvement in terms of energy saving, they represent a loss in terms of personal comfort of the illumination, thus raising the problem to the level of health care. In a scenario where all scientific and industrial efforts are spent on developing low-consumption light sources with the same spectrum as that of the sun, COELUX demonstrates a ground-breaking solution, based on the evidence that the sun cannot provide natural light in the absence of sky. With the aim of producing those colour distributions captured by artists in their masterpieces, COELUX has developed innovative materials, incorporated them in lighting installations, and so recreated the same atmospheric effects that produce the all colour variety in transmitted sunlight, and the blue tinge in the shade under diffused sky light. In so doing, spectacular sky reproduction in noon or sunset modes, under a clean or stormy-day, are made available for apartments, working areas, malls, sport centres, railway stations, as well as for squares, parks, and stadiums, during night time. The technology is compatible with low-consumption fluorescent lamps or LEDs, being less demanding in terms of source quality.

The COELUX technology merges new materials with innovative lighting concepts and systems, comprising optical components and LED-based light sources, thus bridging the gap between material science, lighting technology and architecture. More precisely, the project activities has led to the development of:

(i) two types of new materials, i.e. COELUX rigid panels and films;
(ii) four types of luminaires based on these materials;
(iii) ten designs and eight hardware models of architectural components and architectural spaces based on these luminaries;
(iv) a new photorealistic rendering engine capable of simulating COELUX technology;
(v) the project of a broad-audience science-and-art theatrical exhibition to communicate to the public COELUX understanding of light;
(vi) a 1:1 scale mock-up installation for testing and dissemination of the COELUX technology;
(vii) a focused dissemination under non disclosure agreements, to several tens of industrial partners, end-users, investors and technical suppliers;
(viii) public and private investments of about EUR 4 million for boosting further developments.

Project context and objectives:

With the aim of drawing a roadmap for a novel frontier in high-visual-comfort, high energy-saving artificial illumination, according to the DoW COELUX had the following six RTD objectives, here listed according to the project work package division.

1. (WP1) Develop, up to the industrial scale-up, two new materials able to reproduce the optical properties of the sky; more in detail the objective comprises: synthesise nanoparticles, identify polymer matrices, realise transparent composite materials in lab scale and develop the industrial scale up for obtaining meter-size (of at least 100 × 50 cm2 area) panels.
2. (WP3) Develop and realise up to the final design four new lighting devices (luminaires), based on the combination of light sources and COELUX materials, capable of delivering a faithful reconstruction of the sky appearance. The objective comprises the development of four functional samples, whose performances should be approved by photometrical measurements and by means of installation in a mock-up room. Here the aim is to identify the optimal layout, which allows for relevant COELUX effects to be reproduced.
3. (WP4) Develop the design of at least four architectural components and four architectural spaces based on COELUX lighting devices, and hard prototype models relative to some of these designs. The objective comprises the design of a large scale underground public space and includes a detailed study of lobbies, entrances, meeting-rooms and other accessorial public spaces.
4. (WP5) Develop a numerical platform (photorealistic rendering engine) able to simulate COELUX lighting systems and the resulting illumination with the quality typical of the photorealistic rendering simulations. The objective includes the extension of the existing Maxwell Render software functionalities to include light scattering properties, light polarisation effects, custom spectrum data (through spectrum curves or raw data) and light spectrum measurements, by including a virtual spectrophotometer.
5. (WP6) Develop the design of a new-layout for the 'Light in light' exhibition according to the new COELUX technology, which combines science and art into a theatrical exhibition for wide audiences.
6. (WP7) design and construction of a 1:1 scale mock up room for validation and dissemination of COELUX technology. The scope of this mock-up is twofold: to test and evaluate the performances of COELUX technologies and to directly assess the users perception and visual effects on spectators and to demonstrate COELUX to potential clients, investors, stakeholder of the lighting and building sectors, and to selected target audiences in view of COELUX exploitation.
7. (WP8) increase scientific and technical know-how among consortium members and bridge between different disciplines (mathematics, physics, light engineering, architecture, light design). The objective comprises dedicated training actions, aimed at knowledge sharing among Consortium members in view of faster and more effective achievement of the project results, and to build the exploitation framework and the necessary business contacts (capital investors, potential technology providers, potential customers) to open the way toward commercial exploitation.

Project results:

The project has fully achieved all tackled objectives. In fact the following results have been produced:

1. (WP1) Several types of different nanoparticles (NP) have been synthesised and effectively dispersed in different polymer matrices. Finally two technologies have been selected, developed up to the industrial scale, and successfully tested in industrial plants, namely the technology for the production of meter size rigid COELUX panels (e.g. of 200 × 100 sqm area; i.e. four times larger than what requested) and flexible COELUX films (of unlimited length).
2. (WP3) Four types of luminaires have been developed up to the final design. Three of them faithfully reproduce the sky at noon, and differ for the sky size and shape: namely a plurality of small sky spots, a standard 60 x 60 cm2 sky tile and a 200 × 100 sqm large sky aperture, respectively. The fourth luminaire proposes the reconstruction of the sunset sky in a stormy day. Functional samples of all four luminaries have been installed in 1:1 scale testing environment. Direct photometric measurements have proved that standards for general lighting are adequately fulfilled.
3. (WP4) The project has produced five designs and five physical models of architectural components, suitable for connecting in optimal way COELUX luminaires to the surrounding environment in order to better visualise the chromaticity of either the noon or the sunset sky. Three of these models are in 1:1 scale, while the others are in 1:10 and 1:33 scales. Moreover, the project has produced five designs of architectural spaces, namely the design of a metro station (including entrances, turnstiles, escalators, corridors and lifts), a restaurant, an art gallery museum, a lounge and the interior design of a set of luxury hotel rooms, and the hard prototype of three of these architectural environments (the metro station, the lounge and the hotel rooms).
4. (WP5) The project has developed a numerical platform (photorealistic rendering engine) able to simulate COELUX lighting systems and the resulting environment illumination. In detail the following functionalities have been included into the new rendering engine:

(i) light scattering properties, to correctly manage the sky light and the behaviour of light when COELUX materials are applied;
(ii) spectrum editor to allow manual input of spectral components;
(iii) new users interfaces to allow easy interaction with users (lighting experts, designers, physicists) that will help the user to configure the spectrum profile;
(iv) photometrical tools for numerical calibration, needed for accurate validation and light analysis tools, required for use in architectural design.

The new Maxwell render engine was validated against real measurements performed in a mock-up test environment.
5. (WP6) The project has produced the design of a new-layout for the 'Light in light' exhibition according to the new COELUX technology, which combines science and art into a theatrical exhibition for wide audiences. The exhibition concept has been extended to become a performance, which can also be proposed in outdoors, to wide audiences. Experiments based on state-of-art technologies have been scaled up in terms of dimensions in order to be seen by a larger number of visitors simultaneously. Experiments originally based on liquid diffusing materials have been upgraded to include COELUX technology (layout 1 and 3 of the 'Light in light' exhibition). Experiments demonstrating the effects of sky, air and sun on the visual perception of the surrounding landscape and buildings have been scaled-up to 100 area factor, and demonstrated to some hundreds people during a public event held in Varenna ('Passion for light' event at Varenna Physics festival, 16 September 2011, see for details). On this occasion, a video has been realised, reporting on the 1h 30min stage show.
6. (WP7) COELUX has realised the design and construction of a 1:1 scale mock up room for validation and dissemination of COELUX technology. This mock-up, installed at LL's premises, has a twofold scope: to be used as a laboratory for testing and measuring the performances of COELUX technology and to experience any improvements to such technology and to serve as a real 1:1 scale demonstrator of COELUX technology in a real living space. Within this objective, the mock-up room has been successfully used to involve potential customers, investors and industrial companies which could be important partners in business to Light in Light for the industrial production of COELUX luminaires. The mock-up room is built to be easily modified and include new advances of COELUX luminaires and equipment for quantitative measurements of COELUX technology performances.
7. (WP8) The project has contributed to increase scientific and technical know-how and build the exploitation framework. Extensive training has been performed throughout the project execution, which led to increased know-how of the participating SMEs in the fields of light design, lighting engineering, rendering and lighting systems simulation tools, nano-composite materials and architectural projecting.

Also the project has conducted a well focused dissemination:

- to the general public: during a public event in Varenna (Italy) as described above (WP6);
- to schools: by means of presentations and lectures to secondary school pupils, done by the coordinator;
- to university students, by means of a specific lecture administered to students in architecture from Milan Politecnico (done by the coordinator);
- to potential investors, potential clients and technology providers, as detailed in the dissemination activities report here enclosed.

Potential impact:

In developing an innovative and integrated technological solution to enable natural light reproduction by means of lighting technologies, the current project responds to relevant societal needs. On one hand the project responds to the demand from citizens for more comfortable and at the same time energy-saving lighting solutions, compared to current low-consumption light sources. On the other, COELUX technology constitute a earth-breaking innovation in lighting, which will open new market opportunities for the participating SMEs and for all the network of European enterprises which will be involved in COELUX technology production, demonstration and usage. As such the project contributes to urgent needs from European economy, in terms of new skills, new job opportunities and new business.

The main societal and economic impact of COELUX is to boost innovation capacities and skills of European industries, and especially SMEs. The project contributes to this impact in several ways. The project sees the participating SMEs as primary actors in acquiring from RTD performers not only the project foreground but also scientific and technical knowledge as well as networking information, e.g. information on strategic suppliers. For example, Light in Light (LL) was able to take off in lighting design because of the knowledge provided by RTDP Bartenbach Licht Labor (BB). BB also supported LL in the engaging of world leading industries in the role of technical supplier, thanks to the trust these industries have in BB. In the field of nano-composite materials, LL acquired considerable know-how from ETH and also was able to establish client-supplier relations with industries producing the necessary components (i.e. NPs) and materials (i.e. hard panels and films) at industrial scale. In a similar way, the SMEs LL and Next Limit (NL) acquired from University of Insubria (IN) all the relevant know-how and competence regarding the physics of optics and lights, necessary to develop (NL) and use (LL) the new rendering engine which is one outstanding result of COELUX. This has also been translated from research to industry methods, skills, innovation, ideas and models, as well as state-of-the-art and beyond-state-of-the art technologies and techniques in the fields of optics, light sciences and physics, materials sciences, mathematics and algebraic algorithms implementation, industrial methods and techniques, new equipment and process engineering. Through COELUX, SMEs gained further knowledge which follows straightforwardly from the interdisciplinary nature of the project, and consequently SMEs have achieved a leading position even in respect to RTD performers.

The project also contributes to increase the competitiveness of European Industries, by means of:

(1) inventions generated by project research, which will put participant SMEs as first in the market and so in a prominent position vis-à-vis non EU competitors;
(2) the spread of innovative know-how and the creation of new skills, which could generate more innovative products and applications.

The project activates a virtual cycle for new skills creation as it introduces a very high technology barrier in the lighting industry, so far characterised by a very low technological level. This drastic increase in technological complexity requires new, experienced skills, which derive from the complementary and interdisciplinary work conducted by the project, merging competences, technologies and techniques in the fields of miniaturised optics, light sciences and physics, materials sciences, mathematics and algebraic algorithms implementation, industrial methods and techniques, new equipment and process engineering. Also in the area of ICT and virtual architecture rendering, the new requirements imposed by our project create new IT developers figures, merging competences in optics, IT engineering and visual representation skills.

Beyond the scientific and technology transfer from RTD performers to SMEs, the project also contributed to create a transnational network of enterprises, sharing common interests on COELUX technology exploitation. The commercial agreements established during the project execution among COELUX participants foresee a business scenario where all partners contribute at different levels to the promotion and market uptake of COELUX:

- Ekspobalta by creating new application opportunities in the market of museums, arts exhibitions, fairs and expos as well as by establishing contacts with main building companies in Eastern Europe.
- Bartenbach Licht Labor by contributing to further exploitation of COELUX, upon agreements with the IP owner Light in Light, through their wide network of contacts and participation to many international lighting projects.
- Next Limit, as owner of COELUX rendering engine, by widening their product portfolio and becoming a key partner for COELUX architectural designs.
- Light in Light, as owner of COELUX lighting technologies and producer worldwide, by opening new business for the other SMEs and by creating a COELUX production network of enterprises, spanning from materials production to light sources assembly, to marketing and communications, to building and architectural design and products installation and customisation.
- University of Insubria and ETH by endorsing the project results through scientific publications and so generating confidence in customers as well as among the scientific community. Also ETH has the ability to favour links and collaborations with top-level providers which may be involved in future exploitation of COELUX technology and next generation products.

Given the global addressable market, with largest growth in the Asia-Pacific region, COELUX enhances the visibility and business opportunities of the three SMEs partners in the international context. The consortium participants, in line with this objective, are established in six EU Countries, wherein they already have a well-established network worldwide.

This is the case for the RTDP research institutions (IN and ETH), but also, e.g. for the SME Ekspobalta, already quite active in the Asia / Pacific context. This network will provide the consortium with potential customers to assess market demands, country-specific and sector-specific regulations and standards, and technology providers, which can complement internal expertise and widen the international reach for participating SMEs.

COELUX addresses the need for more effective and comfortable light sources overcoming the detrimental impact that the over-exposition to commercial artificial lighting has on human well-being. The discomfort generated by artificial lighting can be traced back to the discovery that many parameters and activities of the human body oscillate in time, by the so call 'circadian rhythm'. Human beings experience two kinds of day at the same time: the outer day, determined by the astronomical route of the Sun, and the inner day, i.e. the ensemble of circadian activities regulated by the inner biological clock. Light is the most important link between the two. For thousands of years natural light had been the main tuning agent. The advent of artificial light has drastically disrupted this natural rhythm, as can be documented by the negative effects experienced by shift workers or flight attendants subject to jet-lag, as well as by the development of light therapies for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and Alzheimer disease. Rather than on well-being, lighting industry generally kept the focus mostly on the functional aspects of lighting systems: providing a quantity of illuminance suitable to specific activities; tuning the colour temperature, colour rendering, luminance of lamps to improve production and work performances; minimising energy consumption. The most recent products offered on the mass market do not give consumers a valid answer to the problem described.

The problem of how artificial lighting affects the quality of life is particularly relevant for areas designed to host different types of human activities that span over a range of many hours (e.g. offices, or rooms inside residential buildings). In many cases they do not allow for the presence of windows, which would grant users the comfort deriving from visual contact with the external environment. In such context, COELUX fill this open gap in the lighting market: providing a unique, unexpected view of a sunlit sky, comfortable on a psychological, emotional and biological level, in narrow spaces that allow for the sole presence of standard fittings.

COELUX fits into the EU strategies for low-energy consumption technologies. As the US Department of Energy recently assessed, LED light sources feature the lowest environmental impact in their overall life cycle -from production to disposal, having been found out to be the most eco-friendly source in 14 out the 15 impact factors considered. COELUX luminaire adopts LED as light emitters, and is therefore in line with these strong considerations. For what concern visual discomfort due to the intense blue peak spectral component in LED's, the physical mechanism by which COELUX devices operate shifts said uncomfortable blue LED component in the shade, where the eye is used to see it as consequence of the light from the sky, leaving the warm direct component to illuminate the scene, thus demonstrating how LEDs might produce the same visual comfort of natural light. Therefore, the project has an impact in further demonstrating the advantage of LED-based, eco-friendly, illumination technologies. This will increase the applications of LEDs in lighting sources with a consequent energy saving effect.

Moreover, COELUX introduces new capabilities for underground living spaces: the COELUX lighting fixtures provide a breakthrough effect widening the distance of the ceiling and walls as a consequence of the 'virtual windows' created by COELUX fixtures. COELUX faithful reproduction of the light of the outdoor, endows hypogeal architecture, underpinned by energy saving requests in those countries where extremely cold, hot or humid climate severely impacts air-conditioning costs.

Economic impacts for participating SMEs

COELUX starts from the idea of SME partner Light in Light to develop and market a new technology for lighting. This innovative technology will generate new business in many areas: lighting systems, IT tools for architectural rendering and light design, architecture, expos and exhibitions (trade fairs and arts exhibitions or museums setups), building in all segments (residential, shopping, leisure, museums, healthcare, transportation and underground, offices and industrial constructions as well as retrofitting).

The economic impacts deriving from all these potential markets are difficult to be sized at present, but we can provide some estimations based on recent figures for lighting fixtures market.

The global market of lighting fixtures is worth USD 40 billion, 20 % of which is in Europe, 20 % in North America and 40 % in Asia-Pacific geographic areas. The market is extremely fragmented, with many small players and only a few companies holding a market share in the range of 1.5 %.

We base our forecasts on the fact that the lighting market is characterised by low-technology barriers, slow and low innovation rates and usually low-prize products due to high competition, especially from Far East producers. The largest value of lighting products is currently linked to aesthetical / artistic design, which inherently leads to customisation and large market fragmentation. These circumstances create a favourable ground for COELUX high-tech product to emerge and to attract sizable funding in the aim of winning consistent market shares.

COELUX will address first three exemplary vertical segments of this huge and extremely fragmented market: retail (15 % of market value), hospitality (15 %) and healthcare (6 %), these being the three verticals where high-tech lighting solutions are currently mostly desired, due to the relevant commercial added value which such innovation is capable to bring.

Prestigious hotel chains, top-value shopping malls and department stores, large hospitals and expensive private clinics will substantially increase their attractiveness from the adoption of high tech illumination. Other vertical market segments, such as residential (26 %), offices (13 %) and education (6 %), offer a great chance of big volumes too, even if here stronger efforts are needed to successfully take-over currently used traditional approaches. The market trends for the three verticals (retail, hospitality and healthcare) considers only lighting fixtures, functional lighting, indoor illumination and new installations only (i.e. new constructions and/or refurbishment, without re-lamping). The estimations indicate an overall turnover of about USD 10 billionin 2015 for these three verticals. As a conservatibe assumption, we consider that 7 % of this market (i.e. the top-level high-technology segment, worth approximately USD 700 million) is the primary target for COELUX technology. If we consider the other verticals we may assume this potential market to double (i.e. USD 1.4 billion).

Light in Light has set a target of 5 % market reach within 5 years. In addition, we foresee a comparable turnover to derive from large architectural lighting projects in three specifics market segments, i.e. subways (tubes), airports and museums. Based on the figures above and considering an annual growth rate in the range of 13 %, a preliminary business plan indicates a ROI for Light in Light within 3 years and an extremely positive result by year 2017.

To achieve this goal specific actions need to be performed, before market entry.

The first action, already in place, is to keep the technology secret as much as possible. To this end all the dissemination and demonstration activities performed in the frame of the project have been covered by strict secrecy and non disclosure policy.

The second action is to define a go-to-market plan, which entails detailed planning of industrial scale up (partially conducted in the frame of COELUX). This activity has already been performed by SME Light in Light srl and a business plan has been produced. As part of this action, the participating partners have established a network of contacts and prospect business relationships to ensure that the COELUX technologies production chain is in place and ensures the required quality and timing for products delivery, at the moment of market entry. This has also entailed technology verifications versus market standards, necessary for products certification for the specific usages and the wide adoption of the technologies in the primary markets, starting from Western countries.

The third action consists in an investment plan which assures the financial resources to complete the industrialisation and to start production, in order to allow fulfilling future market orders and commitments.

To this end additional financing has been sought from public and private investors, including further EC funded projects, national funded initiatives, bank loans, private investments. This action - which is still ongoing - has at present led to approximately EUR 4 million additional financial resources in two years.

The last action consists in raising the interest of the market. This action has been carefully conducted in the frame of the project, by means of specifically targeted meetings, presentations and demonstrations to key stakeholders and potential clients. These presentations and demonstrations have already resulted in some expressions of interest, leading to the realisation of executive projects for new architectural spaces and installations to be realised in the next months.

This economic impact has obvious effects on the overall production chain, and in particular in the areas of nano-composite materials, materials functionalisation, light design, architecture, optical components, etc., which are hard to evaluate at present.

More specifically, the IT SME partner Next Limit, has forecasted increased revenues from new market opportunities and increased selling price for the new Maxwell render software, estimated in an increase of total Maxwell Render licenses (about 10 000 at present) from current 1 % market share up to 5 % market share in the next 4 years, which may account approximately EUR 7.5 million/year turnover, which is almost three time higher than current annual turnover of Next Limit.

Because Next Limit is expected to take part in COELUX technologies exploitation as the Maxwell Render engine will be the most suitable (if not unique in the market) tool able to simulate COELUX technologies in architectural renderings, we also expect that additional business is indirectly generated by the COELUX lighting technologies sales. This estimation is hard to be done at present.

For what concerns SME partner Ekspobalta, the company will be first to propose COELUX for events, expos and arts installations. This will increase the appeal of the Company in this specific market. Moreover, Ekspobalta will be the main promoter of COELUX in North and Eastern Europe, where the company has well established connections with main building companies. These connections have already led to some declarations of interest from Lithuanian builders. These brokerage actions, on top of the direct revenues generated by COELUX in the core business of Ekspobalta, will also contribute to widen the business area of the company, increase revenues and enhance visibility at international level.

Project coordinator:
Prof. Paolo Di Trapani
Università degli Studi dell'Insubria
Dipartimento di Scienza e Alta Tecnologia
Via Valleggio, 11 - 22100 COMO (Italy).
Phone: +39-031-2386225