May 17, 2011

100-Watt LED Bulbs Set To Enter Market

With 100 watt light bulbs soon to be extinct, manufacturers are set to release an equivalent wattage of LED bulb to replace them, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

In 2007, Congress passed a law mandating that bulbs producing 100 watts worth of light meet certain efficiency goals starting in 2012. The basic design of the incandescent bulb has not changed much in the last century and wastes most of its energy as heat, especially the higher-wattage variety.

The LED bulbs will cost about $50 each and will likely go on sale next year, after the government ban takes effect.

Creating good alternatives to 100-watt bulbs has proven challenging to the lighting industry. The new bulbs have to fit into fixtures designed for older technology.

Compact fluorescents are an obvious replacement, but have flaws. Containing a small amount of toxic mercury vapor which is released if they break or are improperly thrown away, they are technically a health hazard and very few people dispose of them properly. Brighter models are bulky and may not fit in existing fixtures.

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) are another new technology in lighting. OLED's have had problems reaching mass production. Consisting of glowing sheets or tiles, they are used as vibrant color screens for smartphones. Increasing their size and brightness for use in homes and offices is expensive.

Although efficient, durable and a proven technology, LED lights are still expensive. An LED bulb can contain a dozen light-emitting diodes, each basically a tiny semiconductor chip, which cost about $1 each.

Even thought LED lights do not produce as much heat as other bulbs, the heat they do produce is problematic to the chips that supply the light, shortening the lifespan and reducing the efficiency of the circuits. Cramming a dozen chips together in a tight bulb-shaped package that fits in today's lamps and sockets makes the heat problem worse.

There are 425 million incandescent light bulbs in the 60-watt range in use in the US today, Zia Eftekhar, the head of Philips' North American lighting division, told AP. The energy savings that could be realized by replacing them with 10-watt LED bulbs is staggering.

The federal government, in a bid to stimulate LED development, has announced a $10 million "L-Prize" for an energy-efficient replacement for the 60-watt bulb.

Philips is so far the only entrant in testing and Eftekhar expects the company to win it soon. But Lighting Sciences Group, a Satellite Beach, Fla.-based company that specializes in LED lighting, plans its own entry, which it will demonstrate at the LightFair trade show.

Philips has been selling a 60-watt-equivalent bulb since December that is quite similar to the one submitted to the contest. Just slightly dimmer, it still consumes 2 watts too much power and costs $40, whereas the L-Prize target is $22. Sylvania already sells a similar LED bulb for $40.

LED prices are coming down quickly, The US Department of Energy (DoE) predicts a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb to cost $10 by 2015. Pricing them within range of a compact fluorescent bulb.

Bob Karlicek, the director of the Smart Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, thinks that price is achievable, "it's not necessarily clear to people in the lighting industry that LED chips were ever meant to go into a bulb."

What's really needed, he told AP, is a new approach to lighting "” new fixtures and lamps that spread out the LEDs, avoiding the heat problem.


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