A Japanese scientist who invented environmentally friendly sources of light has been awarded this year’s Millennium Technology Prize.

Professor Shuji Nakamura was given the 1m Euro (£680,000) prize at a ceremony in Helsinki, Finland.

The award recognised his inventions of blue, green and white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and the blue laser diode.

White LEDs could provide a sustainable, low-cost alternative to lightbulbs, especially in developing countries.

His other inventions such as blue LEDs are used in flat-screen displays, while blue lasers are already being exploited in the next generation of DVD player.

"Professor Nakamura’s technological innovations in the field of semiconductor materials and devices are groundbreaking," said Jaakko Ihamuotila, chairman of the Millennium Prize Foundation.

The Millennium Technology Prize is the world’s largest technology award, equivalent to the Nobel Prizes for science. It recognises technological developments that have a positive impact on quality of life and sustainable development.

It is awarded every two years. The first prize, awarded in 2004, was presented to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Receiving the award, Professor Nakamura said: "I hope the award of this prize will help people to understand that this invention makes it possible to improve quality of life for many millions of people.

"This is not just a source of light that makes enormous energy savings possible, it is also an innovation that can be used in the sterilisation of drinking water and for storing data in much more efficient ways."

As LEDs are more robust than traditional lightbulbs and use relatively little power they can easily be combined with solar panels to provide lighting in remote areas of developing countries.

In his speech, Professor Nakamura said he would donate part of the prize money to organisations that promote the use of LED lighting in such locations.

Professor Nakamura is based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his research into new sources of light continues.