It could be the biggest transition for the lighting industry since Thomas Edison ushered in the age of mass-produced light bulbs.
A new light bulb design utilizes plastic rather than glass, providing consumers with a remarkably efficient light source, according to its inventor, Wake Forest University professor Dr. David Carroll. The new light source is said to be twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs, possibly providing consumers with a massive savings over the course of time.
The Wake Forest physics professors says the new plastic lighting source has the added benefit of flexibility, due to its reliance on plastic rather than glass. Dr. Carroll also said the prototype emits a better quality of light than compact fluorescent bulbs, which have gained popularity in recent years.
“They have a bluish, harsh tint to them, ” he said in an interview with BBC News, “it is not really accommodating to the human eye; people complain of headaches and the reason is the spectral content of that light doesn’t match the Sun – our device can match the solar spectrum perfectly.
“People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them,” continued Carroll. “The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more.”
According to a statement released by the university, the research team relied on a nano-engineered polymer matrix to convert the charge into light. The technology allows the researchers to create an entirely new light bulb – overcoming one of the major barriers in using plastic lights in commercial buildings and homes. The device is made of three layers of moldable white-emitting polymer blended with a small amount of nanomaterials that glow when stimulated to create bright and perfectly white light similar to the sunlight human eyes prefer, according to Carroll.
It remains unclear how long it will take for the new technology to become mainstream. Graduate student Greg Smith, who assisted Dr. Carroll on the project, said the team is currently working with a number of local companies to produce a plan to have the light to market in 2013. Mr. Smith said the project was more about producing a great product that could revolutionize the light bulb industry.
“There is something very rewarding about building a device and seeing it light up for the first time using a system you helped develop,” he said. “I really enjoy working on such a revolutionary project. Professor Carroll has an uncanny ability to pursue new technologies and engage students in these projects. The ultimate reward for me would be to walk into a building and seeing a lighting panel using technology that I helped develop.”
While scientists have made creating the most efficient light bulb a major priority in recent years, Dr. Carroll said the light bulb industry remains largely unchanged. Among the greatest challenges is the ability to create light rather than heat, which many company’s say has been solved by the introduction of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. However, Dr. Carroll says LEDs largely underperform in the real world, where he noted they often have a harsh light and limited brightness.
“They don’t last very long and they’re not very bright,” he said. “There’s a limit to how much brightness you can get out of them. If you run too much current through them they melt.”
That said, the invention seems to have met its time. Dr. Carroll’s group is the first to make a large-scale FIPEL that can replace current office lighting and is based on natural white light. Beyond office and home lighting, Dr. Carroll noted that he sees potential uses for large display lighting, including those displayed in public areas, such as malls and in transportation hubs.
The research supporting the technology is described in a study appearing online in advance of publication in the peer-reviewed journal Organic Electronics.