2000s.36 However, even in-depth assessments find it difficult to assess which of the thin-film or the many other PV material and design technologies may be dominant in the future.37 Inasmuch as the basic materials underpinning solar technologies are likely to undergo considerable change, it is possible that U.S.-based innovation can lead to expanded U.S.-based production of new technologies in this field.

Optoelectronic Components for Communications Systems

Optoelectronic components—which include lasers, modulators, amplifiers, photodetectors, and waveguides produced on semiconductors—are the components necessary to send and receive information in light-based communications systems. The origins of this technology can be traced to the 1960 demonstration of the laser at Hughes Aircraft that followed from research at Columbia University and AT&T Bell Laboratories (see Chapter 2 for further discussion). Further research and development (R&D), much of it at Bell Laboratories, yielded the fabrication methods by which fiber and the other system-critical optoelectronic components could be manufactured economically. In 1970, Corning was the first firm to develop the optical waveguide technology—in particular, low-loss optical fiber that would prove critical to the development of optoelectronics. Corning entered into joint-development cross-licensing agreements with AT&T and cable suppliers in Europe and Japan. By 1986, several other giant corporations had begun production of fiber optics and related components, including DuPont, ITT, Allied Signal, Eastman Kodak, IBM, and Celanese. Large Japanese corporations, including Nippon Electric Company, made similar investments.38

The 1984 consent decree that resolved the federal antitrust suit against AT&T produced dramatic changes in the structure of R&D and manufacturing in the U.S. communications industry, and these changes affected the development of optoelectronics in the United States. In 1996, AT&T spun off Bell Laboratories with most of its equipment manufacturing business into a new company named Lucent Technologies. In 2006, Lucent signed a merger agreement with the French company Alcatel to form Alcatel-Lucent. On August 28, 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced that it was pulling out of basic science, material physics, and semiconductor research to work in more immediately marketable fields.39

During the 1990s, many small and medium-size optoelectronic component


36 Baumann et al. 2004. Photovoltaic Technology Review.

37 Curtright et al. 2008. Expert assessment of future photovoltaic technology.

38 Sternberg, E. 1992. Photonic Technology and Industrial Policy: U.S. Responses to Technological Change. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

39 Ganapati, Priya. 2008. Bell Labs kills fundamental physics research. Wired Magazine. August 27. Available at http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/08/bell-labs-kills/. Accessed November 12, 2012.

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