Research by MIT scientists could lead to the development of a new type of energy efficient incandescent bulb.
The traditional filament bulb, unchanged largely in more than 100 years, has been phased out through regulation since 2011 because it wastes so much energy – 95% of the electricity used is lost through heat – and has a short lifespan.
While many manufacturers still sell traditional bulbs, through a loophole allowing them to be installed in industrial buildings, the adoption of first CFL and then LED bulbs, has increased dramatically.
The problem with CFLs is the quality of light – and this can be the case with LEDs, which is why you have to choose wisely.
The manufacturing quality and testing are crucial. There are many low budget LEDs available but these are often poor quality construction and emit harsh light. The colour render of low budget LEDs is usually poor, which has disappointed many consumers but tunable LED allows for smooth dimming and render change while the excellent Soraa and Verbatim lamps provide the finest quality light.
The MIT scientists have applied new nanotechnology techniques to the incandescent bulb, and in proof-of-concept experiments have surrounded the filament with a structure of thin layers of a type of light-controlling crystal.
This captures leaking infrared radiation, reflecting it back to the filament where it is re-absorbed and then re-emitted as visible light.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the experiments have improved the efficiency of the incandescent bulb by three times and the technique could eventually improve energy efficiency by 40%.
The research is at an early stage but could lead to commercial production of new incandescent bulbs that are highly effective in both energy and light quality. But there is still the challenge of making these bulbs last longer.
The traditional filament bulb lasts for only around 1,000 hours before burning out. In contrast, an LED light can last for up to 40,000 hours.
Nanotechnology has also been used by Graphene Lighting, a UK university spin-out company to develop an energy-efficient graphene light bulb and commercial production is expected soon. The bulb filament will be coated in graphene, 200 times stronger than steel but a million times thinner than a human hair.
Challenges facing scientists seeking to commercialise breakthroughs are many. For example, the graphene was due to go on sale by end of last year but no announcement has been made. There is a big leap from proof-of-concept to mass production.
But it is good to see the continued push for increased energy efficiency and quality in lighting, which is central to our lives. While we await further news on these projects, the best choice remains well designed LEDs that are constructed to the highest standards.