A LEADING academic has said the region must set aside internal squabbles if it hopes to become a hotspot for industrial innovation.

At the launch of revolutionary new lighting system Professor Geoff Williams of Thorn Lighting in Spennymoor, County Durham voiced fears that North-East businesses, universities and politicians were failing to join forces to attract international investment.

Prof Williams, visiting emeritus Professor at Durham University's
Department of Physics, led a consortium of regional experts to develop the potential of energy-efficient electric Oled (organic light-emitting diodes) that could replace conventional lighting over the next decade.

Wafer-thin, printable Oled panels are predicted to displace existing light sources, such as fluorescent and incandescent lamps - cutting costs and enabling light to be powered by renewable energy sources. 

The team, which included Dan Martin of Newcastle-based design consultants Octo Design and Ian Wilson of lighting technology firm  Tridonic, has been working since 2007 on the £4m project to develop the Oled lighting concept, which was demonstrated for the first time in the UK at Thorns Academy of Light research centre in Spennymoor yesterday.

"We have taken the technology to the point where it is capable of being commercialised," explained said Prof Williams, a world-renowned lighting expert who has now stepped down from his position at Thorn following completion of the groundbreaking project.

"This has been developed right here in the North-East. It just shows what can be achieved when we pool our skills and resources.

"When I started this the UK wasnt even on the map (for Oled technology. Delivering this will secure the North-East attention all over the world.

He added: "We are a hard-working, talented region but we are fragmented. We don't see enough cooperation between Newcastle, the Tees Valley or Durham.

"There is the talent and technical expertise in this region to become a one stop shop for investors - just look at the likes of CPI (Centre for Process Innovation in Redcar and Sedgefield), Newcastle Science City, Narec in Blyth and our five excellent universities. We have the capability to attract inward investment globally but we can only go to technology companies in San Francisco or Japan if we have a clear vision and shared purpose."

He believed that Newcastle Science City could become a focal point for building the regions reputation for innovation.

It's hoped that the Oled project will lead to new jobs at Thorn in Spennymoor, but Prof Williams admitted that it would take significant cash injections before the technology could become a cost-effective alternative to traditional lighting products.

"It's been my baby since at least 2005. We got funding, which led to the other businesses involved in this project, people who believed this was viable and more companies came on board.

"There's huge potential for cost savings for businesses, but it's also really important from an environmental perspective."