Incandescent Light Bulb Getting Resurrected: A Recent MIT Research Suggests

Can government laws and bureaucratic set-up predict what free scientific and technological progress can or cannot achieve? The recent Wikipedia page titled “Phase-out of incandescent light bulbs” seems to suggest so. But why only Wikipedia: a plethora of recent media reports point to this direction that reiterates on the “death” of these bulbs, banned by governments in developed nations and discouraged by others. Many phase-out regulations that is being talked about in these reports relate to ban in the manufacture, importation or sale of incandescent light bulbs for general lighting purposes. As per a recent phasing out effort by EU, halogen bulbs have been phased out, and any bulb available for purchase after the 2016 date must have at least a B energy rating and these are to be replaced by Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and Light-emitting diode lamps (LEDs). Most European countries such as Brazil, Venezuela and Australia have already introduced a phase-out or ban. The reasons cited are attaining energy efficiency in general in all its electric components such as televisions & washing machines to tiniest motors and achieving a bigger goal E.U. goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % by 2020. They also put forth the argument that no noticeable improvement in incandescent efficiency in the last 10 years.

However, the recent claim by a team of researchers at MIT point otherwise. The incandescent bulb is being resurrected! Incandescent light bulbs works by the conversion of the electric current to heat energy which gets converted to light in the form of electromagnetic radiation. The emitted light contains the waves of all frequencies, especially those within the interval of the visible spectrum. Some of the frequencies are "not relevant" like the infrared waves and do not contribute our visibility. So, more than 95 % of the energy that goes into them is wasted, most of it as heat energy. Now researchers at MIT and Purdue University have decided to circumvent this problem.

As claimed by the team of researchers in an article for Nature Nanotechnology, a special filter incorporated around the filament of the bulb which traps wavelengths at the infrared part of the spectrum – which minimizes the loss of heat energy, while allowing visible light waves to pass through. However, this is currently in the proof-of-concept phase. The same amount of power is required for putting out the light similar to achieving the energy efficiency to 80%, comparable to fluorescent bulb, or even an LED. The first proof-of-concept units made by the team do not yet reach that level, achieving about 6.6 % efficiency, and the result is optimistic since the efficiency for CFL falls under 7%-15 % while that of LED is 5%-15%. But this is a tall claim. However, another feature that has evaded attention is incandescent bulb's heat which can account for as much as 90 % of its power input, which can be put to better use. This isn't an altogether new approach to building a smart light bulb, as experts claim since this technique has been used for halogen bulbs after the manufacturers encase the filament within a tube made of glass and containing inert gases, which help recycle burned-up the element tungsten back into the filament, thereby increasing efficiency.

The team refers to this approach as “light recycling,” since their material takes in the unwanted, wavelengths of energy and further converts them into the visible light wavelengths that can be used. Market is still not sure when we'll be seeing bulbs like the one designed with the “recycling” technology in market, but let us get not too skeptical.

These developments will form a crucial part of energy management systems which will lead to efficient, cost-effective and environmental friendly “green” solutions for energy usage. As per a report published by Allied Market Research titled “Energy Management Systems Market - Opportunities and Forecasts, 2013 – 2020, the global market would reach $44.4 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 13.75 % during 2014 – 2020.

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