GE Lighting and Emcore Corp. of Somerset, N.J., have embarked on a joint venture to produce white light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The agreement creates Gelcore LLC in Cleveland and signals GE's entry into the solid-state lighting market, which is expected to grow into a significant share of the $12 billion general lighting market. Lighting systems engineers cheer the arrival of a versatile white light source that offers advantages over conventional sources, such as a long life span, lower energy consumption and compact design. Gelcore plans to have its white LEDs on the market in the second half of 1999. Several companies already offer them, including Lumex Opto/Components Inc. in Palatine, Ill., Nichia Chemical Industries Ltd. in Tokushima, Japan, and Cree Research Inc. in Durham, N.C., but they are costly. End users hope the entry of another manufacturer into the market will lower prices. Ken Ribeiro, vice president of engineering at Stocker & Yale Inc. in Salem, N.H., which manufactures illuminators for optical inspection, welcomed the news of a new white light source. "Having a source of high-performance, low-cost LEDs would make life great for us. The [LEDs] we've looked at now have a strong blue." Indeed, if they perform like a true white light LED, said Ribeiro, users in machine vision and in microscopy will have a much better picture of what they're looking at, from semiconductors to biology. "Is it truly a white light, and can they bring the cost down low enough to make it competitive?" he asked. Some industry users of white light stress the "if" and are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Marcel Laflamme, a vice president at Northeast Robotics Inc. in Weare, N.H., also welcomed a new white light source, noting that illumination requirements for machine vision systems would benefit from an alternative. "It depends what these guys are going to come out with, but competition would be good first of all," he said. "Get the price down [on white LEDs] and then people are going to start using them for everything." Michael B. Petras Jr., president of Gelcore, agreed that white light is what the customer wants and predicted that the new company would be able to produce the high-brightness white LEDs required for automotive, traffic and flat panel markets. "Phosphor is the key to turn that light from blue to white," he said. Bill Kroll, a vice president at Emcore, which will hold a 49 percent stake in the venture, explained that Gelcore LEDs will offer about 20 lumens per watt, the same as incandescent lights. "You have to get down below a penny per lumen to garner a lot of new applications," he said.