Photonic crystal LEDs are similar to regular emitters, except that their structure features arrays of holes. These patterns, if optimized, yield a huge improvement in light extraction. The pattern of holes can be fabricated in various ways, but NIL could now emerge as the standard method, as chip makers target tough applications like LCD TV backlighting units.

Under the agreed purchase order, Obducat will deliver one "Sindre 60" NIL tool in September this year, allowing Luxtaltek to begin LED wafer production in the final quarter of 2008.

This will be followed by a larger Sindre 400 for volume production – the tool can handle a throughput of up to 30 4-inch wafers per hour - in the first quarter of 2009. That initial part of the deal is worth SEK 22.5 million ($3.5 million).

Citing Obducat's superior imprint performance as the key reason behind his choice of equipment supplier, Luxtaltek CEO Sean Lin said that the company’s expansion plan for the next two years would require five more Sindre 400 systems, and several more Sindre 60s.

Together with a supply of consumables relating to the NIL equipment, it means that the potential value of the deal totals some SEK 80 million.

According to Obducat CEO Patrik Lundström, that represents the tip of the iceberg for NIL in LED production: "This is a highly interesting market, with a potential for NIL equipment in the range of €100 million over the next five years."

"We are very well positioned to capture a significant part of that," added the CEO.

Although Obducat lists Taiwanese LED giant Epistar among its existing customers, and is also widely thought to have supplied US company Luminus Devices with NIL equipment, the Luxtaltek deal is the first major purchase order by an LED maker to have been announced publicly.

Formed earlier this year by Uni-light Touchtek and the Taiwan Oasis Technology Corporation, Luxtaltek recently acquired intellectual property owned by the University of Southampton spin-out company Mesophotonics.

The firm has ambitious plans, and with $10 million funding already in place, Luxtaltek is aiming to set up eight production lines by the end of 2010 - equivalent to a processing capacity of 200,000 photonic crystal LED wafers per month, it claims.

Photonic crystal patterns are also abundant in nature – for example, the iridsescence of certain species of Morpho butterflies is attributed to a photonic-crystal-like structure of lamellated scales covering their wings.