FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rethinking the Light Bulb

The incandescent light bulb, Thomas Edison's transformative invention that has become a universal metaphor for bright ideas, might be an idea whose time is passing.

While cheap to produce, this 19th century technology generates lots of heat, making it an energy waster and potentially dangerous. Ever since the introduction of flourescent lighting in the 1930s, electrical engineers and scientists have been trying to develop a better light bulb. Long-lasting, low-watt compact flourescent lamps (CFLs) are a start, but researchers are even more interested in light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Efficient, cool-burning LED lights are all around us, but only recently have versions been developed that generate a white light bright enough to illuminate a large space. Now, scientists are intrigued by the possibilities of organic LEDs, or OLEDs, which can be produced in wafer-thin sheets that could theoretically turn walls, ceilings and other flat objects into lights -- something that in itself opens up a whole new world of interior design possibilities. OLEDs are nearly 100% energy efficient, meaning that nearly all the energy going into them is used to produce light and not heat.

Currently, the biggest challenge is developing an OLED that is moisture resistant, as even the slightest amount of moisture can foul the sensitive components of an OLED light. Researchers from Princeton University, the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan are joining forces in this effort. The team recently described their OLED work in a paper published in the journal Nature.

RELATED: Besides old-fashioned light bulbs, another unexpected source of energy consumption is so-called "vampire power," or the electricity used by transformers and electronics, even when those devices are off. This post from WorldChanging explains, and offers ways to monitor and reduce this waste.

Source: BBC

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