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China's Optics Valley all set for broader terrain

Posted: 29 May 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:optoelectronics  LED  high-tech  chip inventions 

Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in China, is known as the country's "Optics Valley," but the city's ambitions don't end with optoelectronics.

"We are promoting consummation of the semiconductor industrial chain in Wuhan and are trying our best to attract more enterprises and talent, both from other areas of China and from abroad, to run their design centres or start their ventures in Wuhan," said Yang Daohong, VP for the Investment Promotion Bureau at one of China's oldest high-tech parks, the Wuhan East Lake High-Tech Development Zone.

Towards that end, planners have drafted an aggressive plan for the high-tech zone. By the end of next year, they intend to have cemented the region's dominance in optical communications; strengthened its role in mobile communications; launched activity in IC fabrication, semiconductor lighting technology, and digital TV and display development; increased infrastructure support for software and services outsourcing; and bolstered Wuhan's role in the automotive electronics and spare-parts sectors.

Hubei's electronics and IT industry logged revenues of Rs.81,540.63 crore (109.9 billion RMB) for 2008, a 36 per cent increase over 2007. That growth rate exceeded the industry average in China by nine percentage points and put Hubei first among central China's six provinces in tech-industry activity. Hubei is home to companies in the optical communications, mobile communications, display, software, materials and automotive electronics sectors. Wuhan alone generated 90 per cent of the province's electronics- and IT-related output in 2008. Development centres in the city include the Wuhan East Lake High-Tech Development Zone, Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone, Caidian Economic Development Zone, East Lake Wujiashan Taiwan Investment Area and Jianghan Economic & Technological Development Zone.

The East Lake development zone, a 90-square kilometer region that is expected to consume an area of 224-square kilometer when completed, is one of six technology zones that have served as models for China's high-tech park system. Commissioned in 1988 with an emphasis on optoelectronics, the East Lake zone accounts for more than 80 per cent of Wuhan's industry-related output. As of yearend 2008, there were 2,100 registered high-tech enterprises operating within its bounds.

"While promoting the optical industry, we make great efforts to support and drive the development of the peripheral cities [around Wuhan] to form a larger industrial chain," said Xia Yamin, deputy director of the East Lake high-tech zone's Administrative Committee. In the jargon of the region's planners, Wuhan forms a "1+8 ring" with neighbouring cities Huangshi, Ezhou, Huanggang, Xiaogan, Tianmen, Xianning, Xiantao and Qianjiang.

Within the East Lake zone, optics-related sectors, including optical communications, mobile communications, optical devices, lasers and LED lighting, accounted for half of industry-related output last year. The development zone is said to rank second worldwide in optical-fibre and -cable production, with a domestic market share of 50 per cent and an international market share of 12 per cent. The zone is home to about 30 companies that participate in the markets for mobile communications equipment, terminals and auxiliary products. In the optoelectronic device market, East Lake tenants last year accounted for a domestic market share of 60 per cent and a global market share of 6 per cent; in semiconductor lighting and photovoltaics, the high-tech zone two years successfully encapsulated a 1,500W LED light source, an industry first. The zone is home to 53 enterprises engaged in some aspect of laser equipment production; collectively those companies hold roughly 50 per cent of the domestic market.

Expanding markets
Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics (WNLO) is one of the five national laboratories, whose construction was started in 2003 under a Ministry of Science and Technology mandate. The lab has been open since 2005 and has a research staff of more than 1,000; more than 700 of those researchers hold postgraduate degrees. WNLO deputy director Xie Changsheng said the lab focuses on "strategic and perspective research" as a forerunner to applied research, with an eye towards solving "key technological problems" in optoelectronics.

"During research on quite a number of frontiers, we introduce high-end talent from abroad and connect the fruits of our own research" with input from the offshore researchers, Xie said. Among the lab's recent accomplishments, he pointed to progress in "dye-sensitised solar cells, for which a successful sample of 10cm x 10cm—capable of driving a motor—has been worked out. Its cost is [as low as] one-tenth that of the current silicon solar cell." He added that the lab had developed an organic LED material that "is quite something in terms of both light emitting efficiency and chromaticity. Next we will apply it to devices—mobile phone screens, for example."

Other research areas include micro/nanomanufacturing for optical communications, fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), wireless communications and optoelectronic information storage.

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