Incandescent bulbs still sold at stores. In some cases, at a fraction of the cost of alternatives. (via wiki)
Walk into just about any grocery or hardware store (even online) and you can still find old-school incandescent light bulbs stocked on the shelves ready to be sold. Their design has been relatively unchanged since they were invented roughly 126 years ago and while they were supposed to phased-out all over the world by 2012 (now 2014 for the U.S., Canada and Russia) they’re still clinging to life like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of our shoes we just can’t get rid of. Sure, their design was innovative for its time and was a marvel to behold over oil lamps and candles, which they replaced, but they are wholly inefficient (giving off more heat over light produced) and sorely obsolete over the alternatives now on the market. What exactly are the other options and are new technological innovations in lighting being developed for the near future that can effectively replace incandescent bulbs?
Compact Fluorescent, action packed with all manner of hazardous substances. Take one apart to get it's switiching regulator, if you need one. (via wiki)
One alternative over filament-burning bulbs that are both efficient and long-lasting are CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamp) which produce almost the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs while reducing the amount of energy needed to power them. Just like their elongated widely used cousins, CFLs are filled with a phosphorus gas that produces light as electrons collide with the gas molecules. That’s where the similarities between the two end as modern CFLs were designed to fit into existing incandescent house-hold fixtures and feature a folded tube design with a compact electronic ballast at the lamps base (regular fluorescent tubes put the ballast in the fixture itself). The modern CFL design was actually developed in 1976 by GE engineer Edward Hammer but was ‘mothballed’ because of costs associated with building factories to produce the lamps. They have since made a resurgence and feature new high-efficiency phosphors to produce the same amount of ‘soft-white’ light as incandescent bulbs while garnering a longer lifespan (6-15,000 hours over 750-1000). These bulbs do have their drawbacks however; as they take time to achieve full brightness, cause skin irritations for some due to the ultraviolet light some bulbs produce and contain mercury (which is hazardous if the bulb is broken) making them difficult to recycle (even if the bulb is labeled ‘eco-friendly’).
The LED luminaire, the eventual goal for the world. All of which, still on the pricey side. (via wiki)
A relatively new and attractive alternative to both incandescent and CFL bulbs make use of LEDs (Light Emitting Diode) to produce efficient white light (using energy absorbing filters, reflectors and lenses) capable of projecting luminescence in a 360 degree arc. LED-based lights have several advantages over incandescent and CFL bulbs in that they turn on instantly requiring no ‘warm-up’ time, are mechanically robust making them difficult to break and last considerably longer using less power than the aforementioned bulbs (30,000 hours on average). These lights are not only capable of regulating voltages which allows them to be used in common light fixtures they can also be used in conjunction with dimmer switches allowing for greater control over the light produced. These lights are becoming increasingly popular over filament and gas-filled bulbs as they’re easier to recycle than the alternatives but as the old adage states ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too.’ There are drawbacks concerning LED-based bulbs such as being heavy (over other choices), they run relatively hot requiring a heatsink for cooling and are expensive (when compared to the others) costing about $50 US depending on the brand.
As with all technology, new developments are in the works for LED-based lights with some companies and institutions looking for ways to adapt OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) for illumination. These lights could be made flexible to accommodate a wide-range of needs from offices to factories as well as homes and could be made so efficient that they could run on a single battery for decades before needing to be replaced. Panel-forms of these lights are already being prototyped by the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (State University of New York) and don’t require an existing electrical socket to use which would make them an attractive alternative for Third-World countries that are limited in replacing or adapting their electrical infrastructure to accommodate new technology. In the next 50 years the lighting we use could be based off of ‘quantum dot’ (tiny semiconductors with excitons confined in all 3 spatial dimensions used as QD-LEDs) technology which would make them more efficient in producing light than that produced by current LED bulbs and panels. Lighting tech has certainly come a long way in 126 years since the invention of the incandescent light, and if current trends in lighting innovation are any indication of where these developments are headed the future does indeed look bright.