Are Incandescent Lightbulbs Poised for a Comeback?

Just when you thought the high-efficiency lighting debate had been settled, a group of scientists has muddied the waters with a breakthrough in incandescent lighting.

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University has found a way to build an incandescent bulb that is 20 times more efficient than the 19th-century technology that lit homes and businesses for over 100 years.

More Efficient Tungsten Filament Lightbulbs

Tungsten filament light bulbs use electricity to heat a coil of wire to over 5,000° F, causing them to glow and emit energy as light waves. The problem is that only about 5% of the energy is converted to light; the other 95% goes to heat. But by developing thin layers of photonic crystals that trap infrared heat waves and reflect, reabsorb and reemit the radiation as visible light, scientists have found a way to convert the formerly wasted heat to light.

Quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, the research report says the light source, “(surpasses) existing lighting technologies, and (nears) a limit for lighting applications with exceptional reproduction of (colors) and scalable power."

According to the Monitor article, the two-stage process creates a luminous efficiency nearly three times that of current high-efficiency lightbulbs.

The technology has other potentially beneficial applications too, such as trapping an external heat source (like the sun or geothermal sources) to create clean electrical energy.

“Super Bulb” Development in Process

So when will these “super bulbs” be in stores? Not any time soon, it seems. While the researchers have proved the concept in theory, they’ve only achieved about half its potential in a working model. But the photonic crystals are widely found in nature and research continues into ways to achieve their full potential and develop manufacturing processes to make the super bulbs widely available.

Meanwhile, consumers are encouraged to continue to convert their existing incandescent lighting to more efficient compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

But don’t be surprised if you hear of super-efficient photonic crystal lights hitting the market in the not-too-distant future.

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