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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
January 29, 2012 | Tom Ballard

LED North America completes large installation, developing new product


A local start-up that was created when another local firm modified its technology thrust has just completed a large scale installation in a Middle Tennessee community while pursuing a second generation technology that has the potential to revolutionize the company’s business.

Three-year old LED North America (LEDNA) was founded by Andrew Wilhelm, a Michigan State University graduate who came south to run a hockey team and ended-up helping market LED Traffic lights for Aldis Corporation before founding his own company.

LEDNA has an exclusive IP license from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the use of a specialized graphite foam in LED thermal applications. This graphite foam offers superior cooling for LED heat sinks.

During a recent visit to LEDNA’s offices and assembly space at Tech 20/20 in Commerce Park, Wilhelm was his consistently enthusiastic self, showing his current technology that was recently installed in Pulaski, TN, as well a next generation (Gen 2) that is still under development and awaiting submission of a patent application.

In response to a question as to whether he was happy with LEDNA’s progress thus far, he said, “Yeah, but we’re on to something really big.”

He was referencing the next generation of his LED technology that he hopes to have in production by mid-2012. Wilhelm expects Gen 2 units to weight only 20 percent of the current model while producing about 120 percent of the lumens generated by the current model. The new version will also allow more customization to the needs of his customers.

Wilhelm founded LEDNA after serving as a marketing manager for Aldis. When the latter company shifted its focus away from LED-powered traffic signals to focus exclusively on its camera technology, Wilhelm was very familiar with the interest in LED-powered street and security lights. Like Aldis, however, he has also modified LEDNA’s initial business focus.

“We just morphed from street lights into industrial, high bay installations,” Wilhelm said. “We are now focused almost entirely on commercial applications.”

LEDNA’s recently completed installation of 180 high bay luminaries at Pulaski-based Outpost Solar is the company’s first large-scale commercial lighting project using the ORNL graphite foam technology. The 180 luminaries light a 44,000-square-foot facility and have an expected life span that is double that of a typical LED.

The project was made possible with an Innovation Grant from the Tennessee Solar Institute.

Wilhelm said that LEDNA’s lighting operates at cooler temperatures, has a longer life compared to other lighting and has a higher light output with lower energy usage. It is estimated the interior high-bay LEDs will save Outpost Solar $4,000 in its annual energy cost.

Outpost also decided to use LED lighting to illuminate the office area as well. Each LED tube consumes only 18 watts and reduces energy consumption by more than 55 percent in comparison to traditional fluorescent lighting, which typically lasts one to two years. It also eliminates maintenance expense. Whenever a fluorescent tube fixture goes out, maintenance has to discern whether it is a tube failure or a ballast failure. If an LED tube goes out, maintenance simply swaps out the tube.

Wilhelm is one of ORNL’s most satisfied customers, praising both carbon foam researcher James Klett and the lab’s Science and Technology Partnerships Directorate that handles licensing activities.

LEDNA has not pursued the venture capital market. Instead, Wilhelm said that it has been self-funded by its core investors.

He also proudly cites a recently completed white paper on the cooling effects of graphite foam technology in street light applications that is available at

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