Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A Potential New Breakthrough in Lighting Technology

In 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law a new measure that, among other things, changed the nation’s lighting policy. The law created new performance standards for lighting that would effectively phase out the use of traditional incandescent light bulbs in favor of more efficient fluorescent or LED lighting.

Many opposed the phase-out on the grounds that it represented an unnecessary government intrusion into the lighting market. Others may have had a personal aversion to the “clinical” white light emitted by fluorescents or LEDs, preferring instead the warm glow emitted by traditional incandescents.

Earlier this week, however, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced a potential new breakthrough in lighting technology that could one day provide consumers with the (proverbial) best of both worlds. By surrounding the filament inside an incandescent bulb with a special crystal structure, the energy in the bulb lost through heat can be “recycled” back into the bulb to provide more light.

Typically, incandescent bulbs are about five percent efficient, losing roughly 95 percent of their energy in the form of wasted heat. LEDs are about three times as efficient as incandescents, providing an efficiency of 14 percent. Remarkably, the MIT scientists believe their new bulb could eventually achieve 40 percent efficiency. On top of this improved efficiency, this new prototype bulb also emits light similar in color and feel to what a traditional incandescent emits.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), roughly 412 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity– or 11 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption – is used annually for lighting, suggesting that a good deal of environmental good as well as costsaving could come from the eventual widespread adoption of such innovative lighting technology.

In Depth: Energy

It is difficult – and perhaps even impossible – to overstate the relationship between readily available access to safe, affordable and reliable energy and individual prosperity and economic wellbeing. This is because energy is an input to virtually everything we produce, consume and enjoy in society. Think for a minute …

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