Artificial fluorescent proteins for the next generation of sustainable and safer LEDs

What if bacteria could produce cheaper, sustainable, and safer color filters for LEDs?

LED lamps consist of a blue-emitting chip and an optical filter made of inorganic phosphors, rare earth minerals that transforms blue light into the white light we all use in our homes. This filter does not efficiently convert blue light, causing serious implications on visual acuity in children and sleep disorder in adults. Moreover, inorganic phosphors are quite scarce and localized in a few countries. Indeed, they are listed as one of the 27 critical raw materials by the European Union. It is expected that global reserves of inorganic phosphor will run out in 10-15 years if global demand for LEDs rises as expected, while the recycling process is quite inefficient.

The European project ENABLED, coordinated by our colleague Rubén Costa, will work to replace inorganic phosphor filters in LEDs by those nature uses deed down the sea. Three out of four sea creatures produce high power light using protein filters for hunting, communication or self-protection purposes. The main problem for the practical use of these proteins in LED lightning is to preserve them outside their aquatic environment. Rubén Costa’s group has managed to stabilize these fluorescent proteins in a plastic matrix without compromising their excellent brightness. This new technology is called Bio-LED and has already achieved up to 6 months of stability with a high efficiency using new polymer matrices and additives, while understanding deactivation mechanism.


In this context, the ENABLED project raises, however, a new challenge: can we genetically design these fluorescent proteins to meet our lightning needs? A research team composed of computational experts, biochemists, chemists, synthetic biologists and optoelectronic professionals promises to produce genetically modified proteins produced by bacteria, such as E. Coli, in order to develop new filters that could level up the performance of the current Bio-LEDs. This multidisciplinary project is one of the leading examples in which synthetic biology serves to the artificial lighting technology.

At least the following media echoed the start of the ENABLED project: