Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pollution-free (or, at least, limited pollution) lighting

I was so excited when the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) came onto the market a few years ago. They were so expensive, but the manufacturers always touted their enormously long life expectancies.

And then I started using them. And they didn't seem to last even as long as our old incandescents.

And then I heard about the problems associated with their mercury content.

Mercury, we are told, is so dangerous that the EPA urges us to air out any room in which a compact fluorescent bulb breaks:
  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
And they are pushing for us to use these bulbs in all our homes and work places?

[For a different perspective, however, consider that, according to an article in Popular Mechanics magazine,
About 50 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. is generated by coal-fired power plants. When coal burns to produce electricity, mercury naturally contained in the coal releases into the air. In 2006, coal-fired power plants produced 1,971 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity, emitting 50.7 tons of mercury into the air—the equivalent amount of mercury contained in more than 9 billion CFLs (the bulbs emit zero mercury when in use or being handled).
Therefore, as another article points out, when you consider the mercury released by power plants, "each CFL bulb generates 70 percent less mercury pollution than a comparable incandescent bulb."

Also (back to the Popular Mechanics article), while each bulb contains an average of about 5 milligrams of mercury--“which is just enough to cover a ballpoint pen tip,” according to Russ Leslie, associate director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer [Polytechnic Institute in Rensselaer, NY--“Though it’s nothing to laugh at, unless you wipe up mercury [without gloves] and then lick your hand, you’re probably going to be okay.”

--So which should we believe? The EPA? Or Mr. Leslie?]


Then, a few weeks ago, I noticed our local Costco was having a huge sale on LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs! Wow! How wonderful!

Except they were little more than ornamentals.

The biggest bulb was designed only to replace a 40-watt "spotlight." (???!!!) --I believe it had a mini base--no good for general lighting. . . .

A week ago or so, I visited the Philips Lighting website to see if they had some other models that Costco hadn't shown.

They did. But their biggest bulb, again, was a 40-watt replacement--7-watts. ("But wait! It's also 230-240V! . . .")

"Where are the 60-, 75-, and 100-watt replacements?" I wondered. "I don't read by 40-watt bulbs. I need lots of light. The more light, the better."

So I used their contact form to ask my question. They said they'd get back to me shortly. . . .

I'm still waiting.


And then last night, I bumped into a site that said it had bigger LED bulbs, including some to replace 100-watt incandescents!

But the further I got into the site, the more I realized why "no one" seems to be selling LED replacements.
  • The 10-watt bulb ("100-watt equivalent") produces only 400 lumens. Those lumens are spread across a 100-degree arc (whereas a standard incandescent 100-watt bulb produces somewhere between 1400 and 1500 lumens in virtually every direction). So the intensity of the light is equivalent for the 100-degree arc, but, therefore, because of its limited arc . . .
  • "It is not appropriate for use in lamps with lamp shades or other lighting applications where light needs to be emitted in all directions at once. (However, it can be aimed at a wall or ceiling to produce radiant ambient light that radiates through the entire room.)"
  • While it is touted as having a 50,000-hour useful life ("over 11 years of daily use for 12 hours each day"), it is guaranteed for only one year.
  • And the cost for this wonder? "Only" . . . [DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!] $129 MSRP, or $99 on sale--"You Save $30.00!" . . . For one bulb.
Ready to run out and buy a few?

Yeah. I didn't think so.

Sadly, nor am I.

But a friend of mine to whom I sent this information just sent me a link to an encouraging article on a breakthrough in LED manufacturing may lead to massively reduced prices within the next two years says Timothy D. Sands, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Materials Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University:
“When the cost of a white LED lamp comes down to about $5, LEDs will be in widespread use for general illumination,” Sands said. “LEDs are still improving in efficiency, so they will surpass fluorescents. Everything looks favorable for LEDs, except for that initial cost, a problem that is likely to be solved soon.”

He expects affordable LED lights to be on the market within two years.
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